for Marie Ponsot
To bring you back, Marie, at least to me,
as we were, brilliantly not old or young,
above the ravine, on a Manhattan street, among
friends, among strangers, in dialogue, blessed were we
among women, prayer you hid for all to see
as title of what might read as a song
chafing at limits, but that would be wrong,
though there’s no reading that was wrong entirely
to you, who’d give what anyone might find
your full attention, if it had been paid.
What attentive elements remained
in the half-locked box of an aphasic mind—
green words burgeoning in a green glade,
monastic multiparous solitude?
Multipara, monastic solitude
seemed sometimes like the object of desire,
or was. Teresa, mind inconveniently on fire,
on muleback, between convents, understood.
A convent once, a cabin near a wood
years later… thesaurus, notebook, the entire
sky and its swooping denizens. You require
just enough water. You forget about food…
Back in the world of marriage and divorce,
you observed, listened, wouldn’t supervise
composed and decomposing families.
Once, with spiral notebooks on our knees,
Petrarchan sunlight getting in our eyes,
we sat for hours near the unsounded source.
For hours they’d sit near the unsounded source,
knowing despite crossed wires, it all was there—
determination, something like faith, despair
refused like blasphemy. You couldn’t force
language, why would you, when it might traverse
your mind unasked. You’d lost the words to the Lord’s Prayer
in English after the first stroke. It appeared
in Latin, on mental parchment—which, of course,
you back-translated, for quotidian use
in mind, at midnight, in a hospital.
A nicotine patch brought back Pascal
as gallstones brought you closer to Montaigne,
body’s and mind’s uncompromising truce,
that long-ago July in Avignon.
Beijing, London, Houston, Avignon,
post-war Paris; change, better or worse.
Queens childhood, many childbirths, a long divorce,
a long apprenticeship on each horizon .
There was always something to improvise on—
new alphabet, Tang statuette, red horse
on a cave wall, collaborative verse
while wine poured alongside the running dragon.
I stop the way you stopped when you composed
those tanka, riffed on your own words, weeks apart,
a bluejay, a blue ashtray, and you’d start
writing, crossing out, writing, ten minutes or
five hours on a couplet or a metaphor,
then you coughed, looked around you, notebook closed.
One day you closed the notebook, left it closed.
Was all the “after” after that an afterthought,
after what you learned, after what you taught,
the languages and strategies you used
to stay abreast, erect, alive? You posed
“with a rosetree up your spine” once, caught
in someone else’s image. But you sought
and found your own. You still sat straight. You dozed
between visitors, between internecine
battles. You hated war. You’d loved. They’d died.
After your youth of Latin verbs and wine,
you classed detritus from a battlefield.
The junk of war, the junk of love, revealed,
turning the coin, your face on either side.
I turn the coin, your face on either side:
absolute loss, absolute composure –
and wonder what we knew about each other,
if I misunderstood choices you made.
We were complicit, decade after decade,
wordsmith, itinerant, polyglot, mother.
There was no rupture, there was no closure
but absence, incomprehensible, denied.
I was across the always-defining ocean
that changed your life, that keeps rewriting mine.
Monique made what’s unbearable routine,
and gentled it, so that you could remain
your self-contained, observant self, pristine
in dialogue with all and anyone.
Your dialogue might be with anyone,
the uncertain young, infants, the wild old
-- or so you hoped they’d be, taught and enthralled
by grandmothers, nuns, grocers. Free electron
at a kitchen table, on a night train,
stalled on your terrace in the March chill, shawled
and silent in a wheelchair, as you recalled
to view illuminations in your brain
that you might not enunciate again.
Misfired synapses were tragedy,
whose syntax once cohered in poetry,
whose unsaid subtexts no one will explain.
No cognate phrase parsed in this foreign rain
will bring you back, at least to me, Marie.