Five Poems

Time

The name of an unsought future comes to this young girl,
Soundless and formless,
With power gathered from her uncertainty.

At first she compares it to a flower unfolding,
An image her innocence approves,
Yet maybe it is like a sweet and silver wine
A spiny season of the moon may turn to poison,
And they will change together, she and her first love,
And the moon will curtail the seasons of her every love:

As the colors of one love tint all other colors,
So the first new tentative kisses cannot cancel
All her former ecstasies and their attendant sorrows.

And Time Again

We shall lie down, woman and man and child
And every elder, to make peace,
More simply than we had thought, with the final ocean
That draws the ragged cloak of its tide upon us.

“Is that a signal light,” someone will say,
“Swaying its brightness and its shadow in the far tower?”
A woman shall hear a voice long forgotten.
A child shall cry out to be less forlorn.
An aged man shall imagine his strength regained
As he descends to the deepest current.

These events shall happen in a later age,
Yet now already it is time to attend,
As within the stubborn clatter of the world
A silence begins to out-curl like an ink drop in water,
As within the blood of a young girl
A shy warmth begins to tell she is in love.

Time After Time

As toward the shoreline of this summer lake
A rower toiling solitary onward looks back to find
Her former life receded, indistinct,
A smear of colors and an echo over water:
So the woman seeks to recall her first love and her second.

When love was young she feared its strength
Must derive from a sweet and silver poison.
How could her heart be true if she never understood
The force that worked upon her and within?

Her passion was always the person she demanded to be.
She follows where long love has taken her,
Out upon this lonesome water where the day-moon
Lays down its reflection like a poker chip
In desperate wager against the past and the viewless future.

Time When

The woman pauses her needle and stares before her.
Silently she comes to know a man she loved
In sudden years gone by has died. From him she learned
The many thousand ways the world is not.

Strange, how the power of memory increases
When objects of its longing are taken away.
Strange, that the woman has no power to weep.

For half an hour she sits alone, examining
The shapeless silence with its dark message,
And then she puts her sewing by and rises to address
New ceremonies of her altered life,
To bear her sorrow gracefully, as a tree bears snow.

Time Out of Mind

And so the night has come for her to be an aged woman.
With shadow shaping shadow, the November moon
Slimming and enlarging in the dormer window,
She counts some names of loves the years have not unspelled.

Her past and future have been conditional:
Both are possibilities for loss and love,
Both present in the mind that watches midnight
Display its shopworn moon, then take it down again.
Remembrance saves what time destroys, for a time.

There comes, as it may come to all, the certainty
That a human season is merely human, a matter
Of being so confused with love that even death
Cannot define what thing it is. Time does not engulf
This hour or comfort it with promise of oblivion.

Fred Chappell

Fred Chappell

Fred Chappell is the author of more than thirty books, including As If It Were: Poems (LSU, 2019), A Shadow of All Light: A Novel (Tor Books, 2016), Familiars: Poems (LSU, 2014), and Ancestors and Others: New and Selected Stories (St. Martin’s, 2009). He was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1985 (with John Ashbery) and the Aiken-Taylor Award in 1997. He served as the Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002.
Fred Chappell

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Author: Fred Chappell

Fred Chappell is the author of more than thirty books, including As If It Were: Poems (LSU, 2019), A Shadow of All Light: A Novel (Tor Books, 2016), Familiars: Poems (LSU, 2014), and Ancestors and Others: New and Selected Stories (St. Martin’s, 2009). He was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1985 (with John Ashbery) and the Aiken-Taylor Award in 1997. He served as the Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002.