(for Lee Nye)
for Lee Nye
Waxwings flake the vault. Your calligraphic cry,
sharp against white sheets, blooms the rigid limbs.
Diagonals of going multiply in a storm of crosses
dark as the lank freeze coming on. They thaw
November skies enclosing me alive, loosen a flowing
older than my bones to stretch the shrunken sun.
It tingles down the spiny currents of departure
messages of never and of now. Blown by an overload
doves fly out of my mouth looking for water,
are swallowed up in snow. They teeter on the crown
of mountain ash to drink orange berries dry
and try their charcoal wings. Your name hangs near
in a breath of birds, frees the heaven around it,
sharpens by definition the cutting edge of time.
Singular in the void, you memorize my loss. Small
winged thorns cling to your signature to lift you
out of bounds. The season mourns. Behind
arrested images, others flock: the gesturing hand
with its severed thumb, wide-angle eyes, a hawk.
My name a prey to cold blue flourishes in air,
the messages go numb. Your lean pulse trips the switch.
Thin years fly halfmast songs. In dreams I keep
rolling them on my tongue, hot lines
to hold off sleep. Wind sucks down the gorge
blizzards of darkening birds. How can they fly
so airy and fierce, fed on ruin all around?
Twenty years behind me an Indian tracks
the forest of lost cries. A pitted chief surveys
the crippled scene, stalks my greenest lies
with slim reminders of a civil tomahawk.
I have no years to hide, must carve my name
on those demented trunks. Along the lighted branch
small bodies flicker out together. Lovers kiss and die.
Come, hold your featherweight to a nest that needs it,
emptier than sky. Comfort the cold smoke
filing past and drift the floating
ash aloft like birds. Too late to stake
my body to the fire I raise these tribal chants
to the curve of a scalped moon and cool
my fevers rolling in the snow.
A second collection of poems by Madeline Defrees is due in the spring by Brazilier. She will read at the New York Poetry Center in April. (Spring 1975)