I remember sitting in a loud room picking a strand
of hair from the blueberry pie inside my mouth.
My back against a window overlooking the woods,
and a path that led down a ravine where a small trickle
of water made a few round pebbles slippery all year.
The late afternoon light that shone on the strand of hair,
blond, gleaming with my saliva as it came undone,
seemingly bottomless for a while, as if unravelling
from a skein. It was disgust, followed by
a strange tenderness.
When the clock struck quarter to three,
I stepped outside for a smoke. I looked up and saw
a contrail diffusing across the evening sky, a spectre
of starlings retreating south, and on the ground
the intent panic of black squirrels darting their heads,
foraging under a bright sheet of maple. I was new here,
naming things before the snow muted everything,
and in my own country I had just turned twenty-eight.
I remember feeling the first cold stirring of an unmirrored
sentience that lasted me the rest of that year.
At twenty-eight, a disconsolate Shelley wrote an elegy
for Keats, who, he believed, ruptured his bloated lungs
writhing in fury as he read what they’d written about him.
An assertion Shelley held onto bitterly, until his own
death two years later, godless and raging with visions
on the deck of his sailboat in the Gulf of Spezia.The bright
interval of the sky under which he’d set out closing
scarlessly, and the apparition of his stillborn daughter
crawling out of the leaden face of the sea. And how
he’d dragged himself on all fours in the squall towards
the stern to see it clearly, and whispered to no one,
There it is, there it is again! before an enormous wave
came down like a giant guillotine & ripped the boat
through hull and rudder, drowning it full sail.
Twenty-eight, & outside the tall house
that evening, I lit a cigarette watching the dark vein
of the sky bruising the clouds, then dusk settling
like an eye fading on a severed head. I must’ve been
waiting for something to happen, & as the light left
the trees, I thought of the grains of blue mud trapped
in the dial of Shelley’s watch drenched in seawater.
I thought of the old photograph I’d found of her in a book
& didn’t have the heart to burn, days after a lull had settled
in the aftermath of our wreckage. Her last year in London.
Blue summer dress & a wreath over her head, smiling
in front of Marlowe’s grave. On a white marble plaque
set into a brick wall, the epitaph in small cursive read,
Cut is the branch that might’ve grown full straight.
I thought of Shelley’s withered heart wrapped
in silk in a rosewood writing case, that Mary Godwin
held onto until the very end, as one version goes,
the same heart that refused to burn on the dark shore
where his faceless body, half eaten by salt, had washed up.
As I said, I was new here. I’d just arrived
from the mouth of my childhood, & I was waiting
on the heels of a black noise that had just begun
like a pale rendition of an unheard music. But as
the last sliver of light went out of the leaves, I heard
a new roar of laughter pouring out of the living room,
and recognized in it the same language I might’ve
burst out crying in, twenty-eight years ago, soiled
in birth, at that first loud clamour of the universe.