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Merrill

 

James Merrill
1926-1995

 
"Poem of Summer's End"

 

The morning of the equinox
Begins with brassy clouds and cocks.
All the innís shutters clatter wide
Upon Fair Umbria. Twitching at my side
You burrow in sleep like a red fox.

Mostly, these weeks, we toss all night, we touch
By accident. The heat! The food!
Groggily aware of spots that itch
I curse the tiny creatures which
Have flecked our mended sheets with blood.

At noon in a high wind, to bell and song,
Upon the shoulders of the throng,
The gilt bronze image of St. So-and-So
Heaves precipitously along.
Worship has worn away his toe,

Nevertheless the foot, thrust forward, dips
Again, again, into its doom of lips
And tears, a vortex of black shawls,
Garlic, frankincense, Popery, festivals
Held at the moonís eclipse,

As in their trance the faithful pass
On to piazza and cafe.
We go deliberately the other way
Through the town gates, lie down in grass.
But the wind howls, the sky turns color-of-clay.

The time for making love is done.
A far off, sulphur-pale facade
Gleams and goes out. It is as though by one
Flash of lightning all things made
Had glimpsed their makerís heart, read and obeyed.

Back on our bed of iron and lace
We listen to the loud rain fracture space,
And let at first each otherís hair
Be lost in gloom, then lips, then the whole face.
If either speaks the other does not hear.

For a decade love has rained down
On our two hearts, instructing them
In a strange bareness, that of weathered stone.
Thinking how bare our hearts have grown
I do not know if I feel pride or shame.

The time has passed to go and eat.
Has it? I do not know. A beam of light
Reveals you calm but strangely white.
A final drop of rain clicks in the street.
Somewhere a clock strikes. It is not too late

To set out dazed, sit side by side
In the one decent restaurant.
The handsome boy who has already tried
To interest you (and been half gratified)
Helps us to think of what we want.

I do not know Ė have I ever known? Ė Unless
concealed in the next town,
In the next image blind with use, a clue,
A worn path, points the long way round back to
The springs we started out from. Sun

Weaker each sunrise reddens that slow maze
So freely entered. Now come days
When lover and beloved know
That love is what they are and where they go.

Each learns to read at length the otherís gaze.

© James Merrill
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