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Verse for Urania

Through the dimness, curtains drawn, eyes closed,
Where I am composing myself before tonight’s excitement
(It’s not quite five, yet outdoors the daylight
Will have begun to ripple and deepen like a pool)
Comes your mother’s footstep, her voice softly,
Hesitantly calling. She’ll have come upstairs
To borrow something for the evening, cups or chairs,
But it can’t be urgent, and the footsteps fade
Before I’ve made my mind up, whether to answer.

Below, where you live, time will be standing cowed
Among the colors and appliances.
What passionate consumers you’ve become!
Second washing machine, giant second TV,
Hot saffron, pink, eyeshadow ultramarine—
Rooms like those ghostly ones behind the screen
With just the color tuned to Very Loud.
Your father’s out in his new Silver Cloud
Delivering invitations. You’ve all been
Up since dawn—not you, of course, you’re a baby,
But your mother and your sisters, Between chores
Teasing each other’s hair like sisters, touching
Rouged indexes to one another’s cheek.
The lamb will have cooled nicely in its fat now,
Cake been iced to match the souvenir
Rosettes (two ribbons with your name and mine),
Whiskey and set-ups set up like tenpins.
According to tradition I’m affecting
Ignorance of, the post-baptismal party
Ought to be given by the godfather.
But this is your godfather speaking, and fun’s fun.
I have already showered you with garments
Priced inversely to their tininess.
Have been shown rushes of what else my doom
Is to provide you with, world without end:
Music lessons from beyond the tomb,
Doll and dentist and dowry, that 3-D
Third television we attain so far
Exclusively in dreamland, where you are.
Would that I were. All too soon I’ll place
Round your neck a golden chain and cross
Set with stones watery as the stars at noon;
And don’t forget the fancy sheet you’ll want
The moment you are lifted, born anew
Squalling and squirming out of the deep font,
While the priest lifts only his deep baritone
That makes the skull a vault of melismatic
Sparklings, and myself groan with your weight—
Renunciation of the vanities
In broken Byzantine on your behalf,
Or your father’s flashbulbs popping, or your mother’s eyes
Laughing to see salvation’s gas inflate
Their fat peach-petal bébé-Michelin,
Not having made you, on me, a lighter burden.

Time drawing near, a clock that loses it
Tells me you must wake now, pagan still.
Slowly the day-glo minnow mobile twirls
Above you. Fin-glints ripple in the glass
Protecting an embroidery—your great-
Grandmother’s? No one remembers. Appliquéd
On black: cross-section of a pomegranate,
Stem and all. The dull gold velvet rind
Full as a womb with flowers. Their faded silks entwine
The motto KI A$$$TO XA ΠEPAΣH—This too will pass.
You’re being named for yet another
Science whose elements cause vertigo
Even, I fancy, in the specialist.
A sleepless and unlettered urban glow
On everyone’s horizon turns to gist
That rhetoric of starry beasts and gods
Whose figures, whose least phoneme made its fine
Point in the course of sweeping periods—
Each sentence thirty lives long, here below.
From out there notions reach us yet, but few
And far between as those first names we knew
Already without having to look up,
Children that we were, the Chair, the Cup,
But each night dimmer, children that we are,
Each night regressing, dumber by a star.
Still, fiction helps preserve them, those old truths
Our sleights have turned to fairy tales (or worse:
Look at—don’t look at—your TV).
The storybooks you’ll soon be reading me
About the skies abound with giants and dwarfs.
Think of the wealth of pre-Olympian
Amber washed up on the shores of Grimm—
The beanstalk’s tenant-cyclops grown obese
On his own sons; the Bears and Berenice.
Or take those masterfully plotted high
Society conjunctions and epicycles
In a late fable like The Wings of the Dove.
Take, for that matter, my beanstalk couplet, above,
Where such considerations as rhyme and meter
Prevail, it might be felt, at the expense
Of meaning, but as well create, survive it;
For the first myth was Measure. Finally take
Any poor smalltown starstruck sense of “love
That makes the world go round”—see how the phrase
Stretches from Mystic to Mount Palomar
Back to those nights before the good old days,
Before the axle jumped its socket so
That genes in shock flashed on/off head to toe,
Before mill turned to maelstrom, and IBM
Wrenched from Pythagoras his diadem.

Adamant nights in which our wisest apes
Met on a cracked mud terrace not yet Ur
And with presumption more than amateur
Stared the random starlight into shapes.

Millennia their insight had to flee
Outward before the shaft it had become
Shot back through the planetarium
Cathodic with sidereality,

As mulKAK.SI.DI. (in Sumerian)
Saw through haphazard clay to innermost
Armatures of light whereby the ghost
Walks in a twinkling he has learned to scan.

* * *


Where has time flown? Since I began
You’ve learned to stand for seconds, balancing,
And look away at my approach, coyly.
My braincells continue to snuff out like sparks
At the average rate of 100,000 a day—
The intellect suspiciously resembling
Eddington’s universe in headlong flight
From itself. A love I’d been taking nightly
Readings of sets behind the foliage now;
I wonder what will rise next from the sea—
The heart, no less suspiciously,
Remaining geocentric. Of an evening
I creak downstairs, unshaven in my robe,
Jaw with your father in his undershirt.
He’s worn out by a day of spreading tar
Overtime upon America.
The TV off, you and your sister sleeping,
Your mother lifts from needlework a face
Lovelier, I find, without make-up,
Even as worry stitches her white brow.
She’s written twice, and sent the photographs.
Silence from her people, weeks of it.
I’ve asked myself how much the godfather
They picked contributes to imbroglio.
Someone more orthodox…? I’ll never know.
Who ever does? From the start, his fine frank grin,
Her fine nearsighted gaze said Take us in.
Let them make anything they liked of me
From personal effect to destiny.
Now should he reappraise or she regret,
Fly back, why don’t they? We’ve a daily jet.
Ah but time lost, missed payments—they’re in deep.
Listen. Your sister whimpering, her sleep
Dislocated, going on three years.
Some days the silver cloud is lined with tears.
(Another day, when letters thriftily
Stamped for surface mail arrive,
Connecticut is heaven once again.)
And what if I’d done nothing, where would you be?
“One more baby back there in the Greece,”
Your father firmly putting his best face
On pros and cons, “when every day make seven
Bucks at the foundry? Never in my life.
Why I say to mean, this kid, she yours!”
Let’s hope that my expression reassures.

Finding a moment, I’ve written: Rose from bed
Where I’d begun imagining the baptism
(In my old faith bed was the baptism)
To dress for it. Then all of us were racing
The highway to a dozen finishing lines
Every last one unquotable, scored through,
You bubbling milk, your sister in my lap
Touching her rhinestone treble clef barrette
—Made-up touches. Lately I forget
The actual as it happens (Plato warns us
Writing undermines the memory—
So does photography, I should tell your father)
And have, as now, less memory than a mind
To rescue last month’s Lethe-spattered module
From inner space—eternal black-on-white
Pencilings, moondusty palindrome—
For splashdown in the rainbow. Welcome home.

Let evening be at its height. Let me have stolen
Past the loud dance, its goat-eyed leader steadied
By the bull-shouldered next in line,
And found you being changed. Let your mother, proudly
Displaying under the nightie’s many-eyeleted
Foam a marvelous “ripe olive” mole
Beside your navel, help me to conceive
That fixed, imaginary, starless pole
Of the ecliptic which this one we steer by
Circles a notch each time the old bring golden
Gifts to the newborn child, whose age begins.
Nothing that cosmic in our case, my dear—
Just your parents’ Iron Age yielding
To some twilight of the worldly goods.
Or myself dazed by dawnings as yet half sheer
Lyric convention, half genetic glow
(“May she live for you!” guests call as they go)
Which too will pass. Meanwhile, à propos of ages,
Let this one of mine you usher in
Bending still above your crib enthralled,

Godchild, be lightly taken, life and limb,
By rosy-fingered flexings as by flame.
Who else would linger so, crooning your name,
But second childhood. When time came for him—

For me, that is—to go upstairs, one hitch
Was that our ups and downs meant so much more
Than the usual tralala from floor to floor.
Now I was seeing double—which was which?

No thing but stumbled toward its heavenly twin,
No thought but helped its subject to undress…
(Mother of that hour’s muse, Forgetfulness,
Hold me strictly to the night-have-been.)

Each plate shattered below, each cry, each hue,
Any old composer could fix that
(Purcell? His “Blessed Virgin”? Strauss’s “Bat”?)
Unless my taste had gone to pieces, too.

Well, light a lamp, but only long enough
To put the former on the turntable.
Fallen back then, watch dark revolving fill
With coloratura, farthingale and ruff,

A schoolgirl’s flight to Egypt, sore afraid,
Clasping the infant, thorn against her breast,
Through dotted quaver and too fleeting rest
The clavecin’s dry fronds too thinly shade.

The text she sang was hackwork—Nahum Tate—
Yet ending: Whilst of thy dear sight beguil’d,
I trust the God, but O! I fear the Child.
Exactly my own feelings. It was late

And early. I had seen you through shut eyes.
Our bond was sacred, being secular:
In time embedded, it in us, near, far,
Flooding both levels with the same sunrise.

(The author is throughout indebted to his imperfect understanding of Hamlet’s Mill by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend.)

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