The Twelfth Year

That autumn we walked and walked around the lake
as if around a clock whose hands swept time
and again back to the hour we'd started from,
that high noon in midsummer years before
when I in white had marched straight to my place
beside you and was married and your face
held in it all the hours I hoped to live.
Now, as we talked in circles, grim, accusing,
we watched the green trees turning and losing
one by one every leaf, those bleeding hearts.
And when they all had fallen, to be trod
and crumbled underfoot, when flaming red
had dulled again to dun, to ash, to air,
when we had seen the other's hurts perfected
and magnified like barren boughs reflected
upside-down in water, then the clouds
massed overhead and muffled us in snow,
answered the rippling lake and stopped the O
of its nightmare scream, The pantomime
went on all winter, nights without a word
or thoughts to fit one, days when all we heard
was the ticking crunch of snowboots on the track
around the lake, the clock we thought we either
were winding up or running down or neither.
Spring came unexpected. We thought the cold
might last forever, or that despite the thaw
nothing would grow again from us;
foresaw no butter-yellow buds, no birds, no path
outward into a seasoned innocence.
When the circle broke at last it wasn't silence
or speech that helped us, neither faith nor will
nor anything that people do at all;
love made us green for no sure cause on earth
and grew, like our children, from a miracle.


From SUNDAY SKATERS (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)

 

Poems by Mary Jo Salter

Distance

The Twelfth Year

Young Girl Peeling Apples
(Nicolaes Maes)