Letter to a Gifted Student

to Tim McBride

Know this first: the gift is worthless
you’ve been unwrapping all these years,
unlayering a Christmas paper gorgeous-patterned.
Or shroud-plain as clouds. Or soft dark
as velvet marked with wine or blood.

Each time, you’ll keep the faith, something
will turn up
— something material and sharp
as money: a knife, a pair of marble eyes,
a tree, a roofed pagoda, a bone, a flute.
Nothing ever does.

Nothing does its dance
with you again: no paycheck, no crown
of laurel, no dragon slain, no downed
champagne. Just this unshading over and over,
the heart opened like a pomegranate, the compass
undone, landscape sunlit into ruin.
And the human
skin that holds it all so legible and fine?
Serpents are written there; or are they flowers?
Runes? Backlit tattoos, the long story
on the terrible lampshade?
No one will know you’ve opened this,
unlidded the box of music, susurrus
of leaves — an undoing you’ll not cease
to do until words are all over
everything like birdsong or snow, a quilt
of locusts and asphalt and moonlight
all over and crumbling.
And you still here,
unwrapping the disappearing
small rain, the one
serviceable tear.
FROM Slantwise
(LSU Press, 2000, pp. 41-42)

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

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