A Letter Home
for Kenneth Palmer, organist
Today dawn came over the French
Baroque garden with the dreary birds'
Relentless chatter in the shrubs.
They drenched the armless mermaid
in their bathing, cracked
The skin of ice that wrinkled fast the face
Of water stealing stars from space,
And stirred the pool into a thousand mirrors
Struck with gold.
A month ago the elms were flames
Burning among the pines.
The wind now hints
Of sleet and snow; the arrowed chapel dove
Appoints north to lord the air
While prints of summer leaves are
pressed like yellow gloves.
(Five fingers spread a moist caress on stone,
Now nailed by slivers of frozen sun.)
But even spring is bitter in another
Country, on the other side of winter.
On the gentle slope outside the window
A cup of shade held last year's leaves.
On the forest's edge
New blooms scattered beneath the jackdaws
Storming the fields and woods;
I must go home.
Each day I bend into the crowded street
And twist and turn the crooked way to church.
In overcoat I mount the bench and search
With groping hands and far flung feet,
Until both Bach and I are out of wind
To fill the pipes. And still behind my mind,
Though every atom is involved (a whole man
Wants it so), though truth is at my fingertips,
The host of diehard queries linger
Hushed and tense: and always blazing
Green and blue, Saint George has neither won nor lost
The stained glass war of good and evil.
I came here for answers and found
None; the cobblestones beneath my feet
Whisper questions; voices on the wind
Inquire in susurration at the window.
The mermaid shushed by snow, my Venus
Headless in the courtyard – these,
all heavy footnotes
Starred to my attention, tell me all
I have learned:
To fail in loving is the great defeat.