No rapture exceeds driving south in August,
the roof down, someone you love or could love
asleep beside you as you make your way
in a lilliputian car across a mammoth landscape
toward the south, the sea looming like Gulliver in our hearts,
the sun bathing our brows with coronas of pink, with salt,
with the hills hammering past so much that when at last
the aching ball of light overhead falls beneath
the skirt of a cloud, a flock of iron-winged
canards hurrying in a smudge across the horizon
open their bright beaks and give out a hoarse, Miocene honk.
Behold the bronze, wheat-brimming field!
In the windshield an elm-embroidered lane,
an affable farmhouse frozen
as if in a crystal globe, a tiny morality
tale sleepy beneath the cloak of winter's inactivity,
shaken up, made live, made blizzard like alka-seltzer in a glass.
I can hear a couple whispering to one another
as one nuzzles like a pony against the other.
Sunday morning, the coverlet thrown back,
they sleep lightly, waking and dreaming in succession,
their slippers tucked beneath their featherbed,
a fifth of spirits drained in the kitchen.
Their household is snug as a hatbox.
They seem to be poised mid-air, their lives yet unlived.
What they are and what they are not are faultless
as little clouds of breath expel from their chests.
O blurred, delicious tarmac
drawing us toward the strange, pink-sanded sea.
O childish heart. O pleasure drive. O domitable spirit.
Accept! Accept! When the rest of the world is at Z
and you only at C (the central conundrum
of your unhappiness), and you wish to be small
as in every child's fantasy of Swift's island,
small enough to lie in a soup spoon,
just a speck in an ignorant world,
the sweetest revenge is acceptance.
Lap and gurgle at its spoon of escape.
Tug like a squirrel from its mother's teat,
from the rough story, ardent against the joyless moment,
as a father stoops to his child and sees in his eyes
not the rival of a young leopard, but the tenderness of his legacy.
Let the rapture come! - an accordion of dolorous days
squeezed into a sweet rhapsody.
Down the hillside a boy sails with his sheep,
across the trestle a train blazes like a comet,
and in our convertible two shining bodies
glance back at a flock of canards and are carried
south in August toward the strange sea.
Let the rapture have them!

From THE MARBLE QUEEN (Atheneum, 1986)


Poems by Henri Cole


White Spine

Pompeian Wall Painting