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by Coleman Barks

She whimpers in her sleep
when I move in half-sleep, quarter,
she moves with me, for me, making small, consoling, fearful
sounds, urrhhh, unnnnrrhhh, as a mother cat
talks to blind kittens, comforting and warning,
afraid they’re about to get up and leave.

We go on tossing, making sounds to each other,
not conscious. I see it
in the robes and draperies,
folds of sheets and covers, so in need
and moving, white edges of waves,
bedless, houseless, bedclothes
with naked lovers, swaying
exhaustion, ocean kelp.

And the same robes and drapings
frame mystical paintings, clothing
scenes of God’s presence—Gethsemane,
twelve-year-old Jesus with the Elders, Jerome
in the Wilderness, da Vinci and Dalí,
Winged Victory and damsels from Rubens, tangled
in the same bedclothes, definite
shape and fold, but changing.

Answer something to her grieving desire-life
falling and folding in and into and back into
comfort and no-comfort. We don’t talk.
We’re waiting till it’s over
strange energy-ocean.
It’s a chief mystery to me
how we last as long as we do, seventy, eighty years.

There must be some tender, possible, other-place,
composed of land, a tree, shade, a bench with an old man
talking about death, maybe even the moment
of death, both of us taking sips
of clear tea the color of air
with sun going down. Is this an old nostalgia,
to sit with whoever we call Philosopher, father,
him and his quizzical passions: Whether things are different
or the same, whether I believe the thing I deny, what
we both can know. I want to hear his tone
in this conversation.

Instead, we’re walking through an open basement, nothing left
but brick piers. Between them, mounds of thick shards
of glass, jade, blue-purple, ruby, yellow.
We call it the glass factory, my brother and I.
It looks like an abandoned industry. We aren’t sure.
Sacred and unexplained, dangerous to the fingers.
It’s not a place I can believe
the image of bedcovers and luminous paintings
all being the same. That doesn’t seem true
now, even such a short time afterward,
though the wanting to sit on a bench under a tree and talk
calm and honesty
with an old man remains.


Coleman Barks teaches at the University of Georgia. He has published The Juice with Harper & Row and has three chapbooks: New Words, We’re Laughing at the Damage, and Night & Sleep (with Robert Bly). (1982)

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