weekend-readsTwo Poems on the Name of Vermeer

Susan Stewart

Toward the Lake

Morning light, light at dusk, now
and then a step
from each other, the endless tuning of one string
against another.
Perfection in the first means the second
slips down
an entire key only to be keyed
up again,
and so on . . . Light is patience and falls
in profile,
a pearl necklace strung by gradations
and the smallest,
at the moment of the clasp, rolls away,
lost between
the floorboards forever, the strand left gaping
forever.
If I had a yellow dress and an open
window,
I am sure as much music could float in
on the wind
as could float out on the air, and so on . . .
The great map
hangs above a leather chair studded
with silver rivets.
I can barely remember the word we use
for the map’s crest,
that square that sets the ratio and symbols.
It’s posted there,
obvious, and oblivious to the sea,
but not
of the sea, forever. The fist of Spain
juts down,
triangular. I was happy there in legend:
legendary sails
of real ships, a monster’s fins leaping
leaping past
the beach, a compass rose, and so on . . .

 

From the Lake

In the middle
of the night, to count up what is
missing, taking
out the wiry scale, suspending it like
a puppeteer
in a play about the ghost of nothing
chasing something.
Moonlight shines in on the scene.
A Last Judgment
looms from a loom on the wall.
Does allegory
then, start at the start, or come forward
on the glaze
of surfaces? In the middle of the watery
night, the plumb-
line snags in the eelgrass. The lecturer
said the name
meant coming and going, just the same,
though how
could that be true? You find yourself looking
for a clue.
You find yourself
looking for a clue. Why do
lost causes
always stretch toward the future when
the rest of them,
retreat, in silence, to the past? It’s all
equivalence,
deferred. A set of substitutions.
A coin for all
the flecks that make the coin. Much farther south
the diver dreams
by lamps propped on the mast. The sea teems
with somethings chasing
nothings all around, and minor irritations,
iridescent.

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