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"I must lie down where all the ladders start, In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart." -- W.B.Yeats
In the Dead Hoursbased on an essay by V.S.Pritchett
I walk the street in the dead hours of afternoon, the idle eye seeking in the glass case--the domestic aquarium-- the human fish. Surprise! In a room a face, a torpid trout suspended--agape, bemused . . . a man or a woman sunk in the pathos of boredom, inertia . . . alone. I am used to actions, not stillness. I am a small boy again, moving through slow, slow time, shut in a room with an adult entirely occupied by the process--mysterious, enormous-- of sitting. How grown-ups could sit! And sit alone! The figure grows larger and larger in my eyes, till solitude and silence burst the room: my first intimation of mortality, when I was a child.© Carl Selph, 1999
The White CraneI saw a white bird huddled in the black- walled alley, miserable in the slanting rain; he was quite lost, and bricked in from the sky and his green swamp. His whiteness made a stain of purity upon the wall, but from the sad length of his beak the rain's slow stream wept down. He walked unbalanced, with his arm- less gait: I stood, caught in his rain-gray dream. The tall girl looked at me--we understood; we smiled a little, deep within our eyes; we knew the bird and we were one: we knew the self that we were once, which always dies. But clocks were ticking, sand was running, bells unrung, uncast, were beating in our hearts: the crane was left to droop drenched wings alone: we split our triune soul into three parts. And though I have gone back on sunny days to proffer him my hoard of tempting food and leaned against a hundred grief-swept walls where countless other dreams I once pursued, the crane has not come back to this dark way: the tall girl has not smiled across the day.© Carl Selph, 1952 First published in The California Quarterly
Afterwards, one night Orpheus dreamed through the black rocks of Hell, gasping awake in the cold light sick for refuge and suffused with the fading echo of an air, its final phrase, a plea made in the shamelessness of sleep for songs--their bones, their bones' pulsing freight-- and wept among the rotted veils, revealed at last why all he'd thought he loved had failed to follow him.© Carl Selph, 1997 First published in El Independiente
And once we slept together beside the Thames, Do you remember that old flat, in Hammersmith-- The bridge, the tilting floors, the tidal mud . . . Decades ago. I young enough. You the wise child. Our host came in at eight with two white coffees-- Me, at the window, glad of you still stretching there, Sleepy, warm, the covers lavishly thrown back, And more than half your nakedness revealed-- Although, to me, each revelation was only a richer lure Down darker, branching caves that seemed to have no end. Maybe I hoped to find with someone else's eye On your discovered muscles, hair, and skin a thread. © Carl Selph, 1999
Agamemnon with black hairs curling under the straps of his undershirt rigs a flat canvas sail over the table where I shall take my honey, bread, and Nescafè safe from the hooves and wheels of the sun. © Carl Selph, 1999
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