Elevens

Stanley Plumly

1.

The sun flatlining the horizon, the wind
off the Atlantic hard enough to swallow—
arctic, manic and first thing—
the morning beach walk north lasting less
than half an hour, while you’ve stood
in the middle of the room that long
trying to get your breath back to normal.
It seems to take all the time there is,
as if a flake of ash burning off the sun
had entered at the mouth, turned ice,

2.

glacial, granite, dark. The summer
in the mountains there was snow, new snow,
you could walk in fifteen minutes down
the narrow gravel road and there’d be
ghostweed, spiraea, and stunted laurel trees
blossoming their own snow-on-the-mountain.
Ten, eleven thousand feet, and the water,
with a spirit of its own, moving over rock
without once touching, flying toward the world.
The thin fresh air too spiritual as well.
Down below, with lights, Durango, Colorado.

3.

City snow, especially, transforms backwards—
antique, baroque, medieval, hand-to-mouth.
Karel Capek, in a book called Intimate
Things
, says Prague can go back one, two
hundred years just overnight in a three-
or four-inch snowfall, as in the stillness
of a postcard of the Charles, looking from
the square in Mala Strana toward the sad-faced
saints along the high sides of the bridge,
snow-capped, blessed and even fouled with
the Old World and other-worldly, since Prague

4.

is a winter city, night city, streetlights
blurred in mist, the centuries-looming
buildings basic gothic under the glow.
Capek adds “that you are startled at the
darkness deep within you” standing in
the history and cold beauty of the place.
Kundera, too, clarifies the quality of light,
as if among the weight of intimate things
you were lifted, and the face in the water
looking up from the river were not yours,
and those weren’t your footprints in the snow.

5.

Water filling a void created by a glacier—
hundreds of these lakes healing over wounds.
And when you choose you must be silent.
So we’d row out slowly, barely lifting up
our oars, in order to fool the fish, who’d
rise to see what foolish fish we were, then
go back down. Fresh water, black water deep.
You had the sense, at dusk, of dreaming,
of floating in a light now almost gone—
the anchor tied to a ladder, oars like wings,
but nowhere to go but drifting until morning.

6.

At a height above Punto Spartivento,
the point at which the northern wind divides,
Como and Lecco assume their separate waters,
deep enough they’ve drained the deepest sky.
The lift from the lakes’ sun surfaces is
swallows, terns, and Mediterranean gulls,
green hills and granite mountains, white
tourist boats and seaplanes circling in, then
steps beyond the timed arrivals and departures,
terraces and gardens of terra cotta towns
that look like, from here, no one lives there.

7.

Eliot says that home is where you start from,
memory and body so confused they are the same.
In London, in Holland Park, in late October
on a Sunday, in an after-rain late afternoon,
I stood under the great horse chestnut
I’d stood under in the spring when it lit
its candelabra into flame. The chestnuts,
like the eyes of deer, were gone—buckeyes
if you’d grown up in Ohio, conkers if you
played them or fed them to the horses.
And half the leaves were gone. Yet through

8.

the intricate yellow lattice of what was left
the changing sky took on a shape less random.
Eliot, in “East Coker,” also says that as we
grow older the world becomes stranger, the sky,
the painter’s sky, transformative as earth—
Constable’s wool-gathering, towering clouds,
Turner’s visceral, annihilating sunsets.
I went to this tree every season for a year.
In winter it was purity, in summer full green
fire. The sky’s huge island canopy felt focused
through its branching, the ground more certain.

9.

The way a child might hide. I remember walking
into the sharp high grass of a hayfield, lying
down, closing my eyes. If you were patient
with the insects and the papercuts of blades
you could, after awhile, hear the Moloch
under the earth, and in your mind, if you tried,
ascend into the afterlife of air hovering
just above you. It had to be that falling
time of day the sun is level with the dead last
word. Levitation was the first word you thought
of down on a knee in the hospital, kissed…

10.

When I saw my heart lit up on the screen,
the arteries, veins and ventricles
all functioning, pictured, as if removed,
in picture-space, I knew that this is
what is meant by distance, the way, flying
once at forty thousand feet, the needle nose
of the needle flashing in the sun, traveling
alone, and nothing but clarity under us,
I felt like a visitor inside my own body.
I could see myself invisible on the ground
following the threadbare vapor trail. We

11.

claim the body as a temple or cathedral,
meaning the house in which I am that I am,
breath and bone, water, mortar, earth.
Brunelleschi, bricking up the eggshell
of his dome, understood the soul must live
in space constructed out of nature.
He could see within his double-vaulted,
self-supporting ceiling a sky “higher
than the sky itself.” When I was there,
in the Duomo, looking up, the terror of
a bird took all the heart out of the air.

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