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For N.N. (soprano)

i brightness 1

This summer, birds fly out from the top branches of a tree    outside the window, dancers running out from the wings,and a tree that was dying for years of an unknown disease    now proffers its fruit again — small, hard, green and bitter;the birds fly upward, folded into the brightness of the air,    distant but clear: air separate as an ocean to one on shore, clear as they are not, so near we feel the rush of their wings [End Page 545]

ii with the help of good fortune

Today was the longest day, we sat under a tree talking    about notes and accidentals, a word and its inflectionsand our part in ordering them, making a world revolve    around us and obey, while high winds plow the oceanand a network of radar signals fails; in dreams you often    see a body washed up on the rock shore, pale and slack,and fortune is a tide lifting and playing with the fingers

iii to gain [the harbor?]

Between voice and word, sea wind and sail, no certainty    but the rough map of an expedition, from the ruins home,to the neon light of a harbor, a drunk watchman running    girls on the dock, back to eight inches of silence, a mask;or the other story: a course through dark seas of violence,    alien cities, a hand moving across skin, across a wound, and the return years put off for a series of false identities [End Page 546]

iv black [earth?]

Your eyes were two pails of terror carried into the future:    what would you find — fertile black earth measured by feetor a yard choked with anonymous limbs, screams now lying    like withered leaves in an index; the fullness of a bird call,the sound of running water, or (as you say) roads and bridges    mined, lines ripped out, the waste sunk in stagnant pools,the melody outlawed that stitched the words to durable air?

v the sailors [are unwilling?]

And it's true, many didn't leave but had to stay behind,    invisible at the farther reaches of a city, shunted aroundin closed cars from dirty bed to dirty shop, the children    sent out to keep a place in the queue; always, somewhereat the farther reaches of the mind, you know when you stop    for a paper or watch the news with no sound in an airport,that it must be temporary, this difference between us

vi great gusts

The story travelled slowly from that corner of the world;     by the time they were heard of poor souls, they perished some fleeing the catastrophe and some who stayed behind;    a wind now carries scraps of papers, spreading the news,sketching their customs and the major tenets of their faith    in bird's flight, but not the diminutives of a boy's name, you say, or the song you sung at school during a blackout [End Page 547]

vii and on land

The words are ghost limbs, cracks on a tongue's surface;    dessicated rivers curling at the edges, falling backwardsto gag the throat and shiver on the skin like flaking paint    when a house is hit by a stray missile, a garden wrecked and a pond where the fish float pale under the sick skin;     but in the morning blossoms fall, after the city is wasteda tree scatters petals, forming a beauty entirely unwilled

viii sail

And when your eyes are void, emptied out by waiting    there is a sound that stirs in the sharp shell of the ear,a midnight voice, for those whose seas are not sunlit    or Hellenic, whose native harbors are dirty and cold, singing they sent us far away, far away from the city     and they gave us peas to eat, just like chicken feed I'll put out a marker buoy, and slip away on the sly 2

ix the cargo

Of the human cargo, only a few survived the expedition:    on arrival you were fed and slept in a high school gym,while laws were made in town to rationalize and use you;    the permit...