Before us lay mud-bestrewn banks,
the flats rutted and torn,
as if cast from molds already broken.
The Lazarus ridges were picked out in pine,
the sun, those silent hours, barely rising
above the eastern mountains.
I had imagined something different,
those days I thought about the future.
You looked older,
the hard lines scoured into your face.
Long afternoons upon the piazza,
we sipped some Venetian variant of coffee,
the richer for being thick with the sediment
of Byzantium, the Arsenale empty of keels,
the mazy canals mossy with trash.
We were young then. So there we waited,
having made a small mistake involving the fruit,
or the fruit salad, condemned to the view,
if it could be called a view, of hills bare
as a scalp, nothing upon their nakedness
but some Platonic idea of vacancy.
This is heaven, you said.
Some day you should get a look at hell.
You know the old man’s ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it.
—Moby-Dick, chapter 31
The maples blush in afterlight
under cold stars that boil the gables and slates.
The midwife toad tries out its telegraph.
Sing to me now, Old Wart, as if you owned
the disconnected alleys of your domain.
New-fangled exile without a proper visa,
who would be king but the discontented soul?
A few glints subtracted the glassine skin
of the crooked pond, like a hand mirror set
on vacant lawns without regret
and so eternally feminine,
the shafts of antique light
not so much the fallen columns of Tyre
but a completeness cast into the fire.
We saw that ash could still ignite.
They burned through the plane tree’s dowdy dress,
the ordinary days, lively with nothingness.
In later years, he was honored
for his charity to fallen members
of the night-soil guild, his adoption
of three-legged dogs, and the scientific study
of insects infesting the rafters of St. Paul’s—
angels of the lower firmament, he called them.
There is no evidence that his alchemical
experiments left a residue
that continues to defy analysis, or that one
of his passing jests altered Catholic dogma.
He would not have been unhappy
to have recorded his hatred of red-headed children,
or his considered belief, still taken seriously
by an obstinate body of scholars,
that the plays of “Shakespeare” were
the work of a massive talking fish—
known locally as Harry and likely
a species of sturgeon—who conveyed
these “plays” to the ear of a Thames lighterman,
thence to the minor actor at the Globe,
who took credit for them.
WILLIAM LOGAN is the author of ten books of poems, including Madame X (Penguin), published last fall. He edited and introduced an edition of John Townsend Trowbridge's lost classic, Guy Vernon (U. Minnesota Press), published last spring.