Ianua: My Father’s Rhythm Strip

                To you, line unforeseen or always known.
                                    Rafael Alberti

To Lórien Knoll from Rockall Bank
and on, then, to Isengard Ridge, to Thulean Rise, 
to Orphan Basin and the Flemish Cap: 

the route you’d plot, when asked, 
to Newfoundland from the coast of Éire
on profile maps of the Atlantic 

floor, those maps you’d loved—all ridges 
and valleys and abyssal plains. 
Running all through my life, this chain

of names.  The longest range 
of mountains in the world, you’d said, right
there beneath the ocean’s indifferent preening; 

guyots and seamounts, and trenches
five miles deep.  A darkness, you’d said, that is
not simply an absence 

of light, but an element even older perhaps 
than light—the black vice of matter
before time.  But the beauty of those names:

who could fail to fall in love with darkness 
when it held such sounds.

Imagine a man 
strolling through the smell of smoke 
and horses and the loose gutted bodies

of the morning catch to board a ship
that departs with the ebb under a chorus
of sails; a man who climbs the ladder to ride

the yaw in the crow’s nest.  How long,
on observing some small change 
coming over the curve of the Earth—land

scrolling towards him, needle of a mast, hand 
of a sail—would that man 
have remained silent, unwilling to relinquish

his uniqueness; secluded and alone
in his discovery?  Even after 
your death something kept coming into being

along the paper.  But it was only a machine
revealing that your blood had fallen finally
quiet inside the walls of its prison.  

It was after all, then, a single moment—
your death: not a place 
of continual arrival; not

the apparent juncture of sky and water.

Think of that flare deep in the gut—love’s
visceral engine—when our lines match up 
with the shapes of our longing.  

Because love exists 
before logic or language.  Why else 
would the painters of the caves, aware perhaps

of the mind’s growing sharpness, hide 
their animals in darkness.  
Think of the lines we have drawn between stars 

so the emptiness they outline 
might be, for a while, diminished; so the darkness 
we inherit is familiar.  And what of the daughter 

of Butades the potter, in love 
with a boy from Corinth, a boy who would vanish
into the extremis of war; how she traced 

on the wall his shadow’s outline as he 
lay sleeping on the slender catafalque 
of her bed.  There are several versions:

that his shadow was cast 
by a candle, by a lantern, by moonlight 
reflecting off the Gulf of Corinth.  It makes no difference.

Every boundary, every outline, even 
when given its name, contains 
its emptiness to the end: auroch, lion, 

bison, deer; The Net, The Archer, 
the beloved’s body.  As a child 
I drew nothing but horses—in outline, 

in profile; on test papers, in notebooks, 
in a novel’s margins: chin groove, throat latch 
and the mass of the gaskin, the slope

of a hoof’s front wall for which there is
still no name.  I drew them life-size 
in dirt, in mud; I wanted an open solitude, another life, 

a body I could step into and inhabit.
Which I did.                 I have eighteen feet of paper—
a narrow strip.  I choose a circle.  I join

each end with tape.  A corral 
large enough to enter.  Which I will.  I could even
lie down and sleep and safely

dream inside the final moments 
of your life.  And I will.  Yet what 
are dreams if not memory at work

inside the body, which is flesh
and knows only the moment.  When I wake 
there will be nothing but the mouth

of each empty doorway; each empty 
doorway’s line of threshold.  And the flimsy
paper circle of your absence.  

And what is emptiness in the end
if not a form of waiting: think of all 
the words there must be, even now, 

waiting for a language; of a lake’s mirror 
ready for birds and cloud; of how 
we empty ourselves of ourselves

in the hope that our dead  
will enter and discover evidence
of their own existence.  Of the solid quiet

of a field in summer 
emptied of cattle, who have followed each other 
into the cool stillness of the milk barn: the lure 

of a pasture, briefly abandoned, light 
still burning in its one green window; the temptation

of a gate standing fully open.