The Swan

For Victor Hugo

I.
My thoughts all turn to you, Andromache—
that little stream, the mournful looking-glass
that caught your whole widowhood’s majesty,
the tears you shed to feed that ‘Simoïs’

had quickened in my fecund recollection,
as I walked through the modern Carrousel.
The old Paris is gone. A town’s complexion,
like human hearts, never stays put at all.

I picture in my mind the camp of shacks,
the rough-hewn column-drums and capitals,
the weeds, the puddles mossing up huge blocks
and mirroring the bric-a-brac and frills.

The Elsewhere Man

A rush is heard,
a tide, and the wheeling
beads of me, bird,
perceive a feeling:

a taupe seascape
frothing the granite
tip of a cape.
A black-tipped gannet

strikes for the surf
like a dagger. Rock
less rock than scurf
sticks out a dock

where a life, an engrossed
Nova Scotian,
leans on a post
and dotes on the ocean.

Does his New World gaze
get lost in the deep
leagues, their haze
of sameness, or sweep

eastward till breakers
at last find capes
again and acres
of vintners’ grapes

A Second Speech from Euripides’ Bacchae

Messenger:
Pentheus set out, and I went behind him—
sightseers, with the Stranger as our guide.
When we had left the city of Thebes behind us
and crossed the river Asopus, we went up
and marched along a spur of Mount Cithaeron.
We settled first inside a grassy hollow
and kept our feet muted, our tongues in check,
so we could see and not ourselves be seen.
There was a rocky dale where springs were flowing,
and pines spread shade, that’s where we found the Maenads—
they all just sat there busying their hands
with pleasant tasks. Some of them wound the threadbare
wreaths atop their fennel stalks with ivy;
others, like fillies loosed from fancy saddles,
were singing Bacchic songs to one another.
Since he could not make out the band of females
well enough, poor Pentheus fretted, “Stranger,
from where we are, my eyes can’t quite discern
those phony Bacchants. If I climbed the tallest
fir tree on that ridge, though, I could fully
investigate the Maenads’ shameful acts.”

Turf

Here in the strangeness you are straying through,
a citron hawk is yawping as he wheels,
fluorescent moss is yielding to your heels
and trilliums are blooming where the Sioux
lie heaped in barrows. Even death is new.
Go stroke that pine, feel how the resin feels. . .
Manhattanite, your touching awe reveals
how otherworldly nature’s been to you.

There’s no bodega, zoo or high-rise here—
a broken moldering birch, like déjà-vu;
like déjà-vu, that grove alive with deer
and squirrels, flying squirrels. Amnesiac,
why is this forest like a place you knew?
Not Central Park, but deeper, further back.