In the Fall
“You’re not going in there – ?”
I turned but there was no passage
Dogs prostrate under the table, mud
dry on their flanks.
Milk in the pan of onions.
The change to schist along that road,
earth in the broken asphalt, gates or doors,
bees in the walls, stones fallen short
of the swollen stream north from where
it joins the sea and crosses my mouth.
In the bookshop, at the counter, the man
at the register adds up the cost, and you,
“Don’t you want Apollinaire’s letters?
You with your French tongue –” And Minor Poets
of the Caroline Period (3 vols.).
What to think of while all the while thinking
only of your hand thinking.
In the Corridor
I passed through, I should have paused.
There were a hundred doors.
Behind one of them, someone whose name
is not yet known to me lived out
his middle years in simple terms: two chairs,
one place laid for early breakfast, one plate
with dry toast and butter sofening. There
his mind raced through writing
she had memorized long ago while he tried
to get hold of himself. Once in his youth
he had studied with love
in the corners of old paintings
grids of fields and towns,
passages intricate and particular, wheat,
columns, figures and ground,
in lines that were meant
to meet, eventually,
at vanishing point. They continued,
nevertheless; they troubled the eye.
He collected sets of books printed
in the nineteenth century, unyielding
pages, memoirs of the poets,
engravings of rurified private subjects
in times of public sector unhappiness,
frescoes of human oddity in gatefold printing.
Why does it continue
to chasten me, he says to no one.
It does. It is a painful mistaking,
this setting something down,
saying aloud “It is nothing, yet”
when he’d meant, not anything –
but then nothing peered
through the keyhole, nothing
took possession. Snow on the roofs,
snow in traces on the ground,
passerby with wet trouser-cuffs
looking to the pavement as the hill rises,
light gathering in the river
and gradually spreading.
After Gewritu secgað
from The Exeter Book
It is written in scriptures that this
creature appears plainly to us
when the hour calls,
while its singular power compels
and confounds our knowing.
It seeks us out, one by one,
following its own way; fares on,
with its stranger’s step, never
there is a second night, native
to no place; moves according
to its nature. It has no hands,
no feet, has never touched the ground,
no mouth to speak of,
nor mind. Scriptures say
it is the least of anything made.
It has no soul, no life, but travels
widely among us in this world;
no blood nor bone, but
consoles all the children of men.
It hasn’t reached heaven,
it won;t touch hell,
but takes instruction from
the king of glory. The whole story
of its fate – limbless as it is,
animate – is too obscure to tell.
And yet all the words we find
to describe it are just and true.
If you say it, call it
by its rightful name.
An Essay on Total Colony Collapse
A bee hovers over the lip and crawls again
into the foxglove. And the meadow reaches all the way
to the hill, to the forest at its borders, to us awaiting
the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds,
their honey and their care, to keep them
away from echoing rocks and the smell
of the clay, and to seek instruction
from the gods when they vanish away.
These poems can be found in Saskia Hamilton’s most recent collection Corridor, published by Graywolf Press. They are reproduced here courtesy of the author.
Saskia Hamilton is the author of three poetry collections, Corridor, As for Dream and Divide. These, a selection of her poems, Canal, published in Britain. She is the editor of The Letters of Robert Lowell, and the co-editor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York.