What happened to Howard’s portrait of you?
I wanted that painting.
Spirits helped Howard. ‘Sometimes
When I’m painting, I hear a voice, a woman’s.
Calling Howard, Howard – faint, far-off,
He got carried away
When he started feeding his colours
Into your image. He glowed
At his crucible, on its tripod.
How many sessions?
Yaddo fall. Woodstoves. Rain,
Rain, rain in the conifers. Tribal conflict
Of crows and their echoes. You deepened,
Molten, luminous, looking at us
From that window of Howard’s vision of you.
Yourself lifted out of yourself
In a flaming of oils, your lips exact.
Suddenly – ‘What’s that? Who’s that?’
Out of the gloomy neglected chamber behind you
Somebody had emerged, hunched, gloating at you,
Just behind your shoulder – a cowled
Humanoid of raggy shadows. Who?
Howard was surprised. He smiled at it.
‘If I see it there, I paint it. I like it
when things like that happen. He just came.’
Came from where? Mystery smudges extra,
Stalking the glaze wetness
Of your new-fired idol brilliance.
I saw it with horrible premonition.
You were alone there, pregnant, unprotected
In some inaccessible dimension.
* * *
The morning we set out to drive around America
She started with us. She was our lightest
Bit of luggage. And you had dealt with Death.
You had come to an agreement finally:
He could keep your Daddy and you could have a child.
Macabre debate. Yet it had cost you
Two years, three years, desperate days and weepings.
Finally you had stripped the death-dress off,
Burned it on Daddy’s grave.
Did it so resolutely, made
Such successful magic of it, Life
Was attracted and swerved down –
Unlikely, like a wild dove, to land on your head.
Day of America’s Independence
You set out. And I, not Death,
Drove the car.
Was Death, too, part of our luggage?
Unemployed for a while, fellow traveller?
Did he ride on the car top, on the bonnet?
Did he meet us now and again on the road,
Smiling in a café, at a gas station?
Stowaway in our ice-box?
Did he run in the wheel’s shadow?
Or did he sulk in your papers, back in your bedroom,
Waiting for your habits
To come back and remember him? You had hidden him
But your blossom had fruited and in England
It ripened. There your midwife,
The orchardisr, was a minature Indian lady
Black and archaic, half-Gond,
With her singing manner and her lucky voice charm,
A priestess of fruits.
Our Black Isis had stepped off the wall
Shaking her sistrum –
Magnae Deorum Matris – with the moon
Between her hip-bones and crowned with ears of corn.
The great goddess in person
Had put on your body, waxing full,
Using your strainings
Like a surgical glove, to create with,
Like a soft mask to triumph and be grotesque in
On the bed of birth.
It was not Death
Weeping in you then, when you lay among bloody cloths
Holding what had come out of you to cry.
It was not poetic death
Lifted you from the blood and set you
Straightaway lurching – exultant –
To the phone, to announce to the world
What Life had made you,
Your whole body borrowed
By immortality and its promise,
Your arms filled
With what had never died, never known Death.