The First Ring

Washington, DC
The Mall
5 pm

We jump almost falling
from the cab in the snow
near the Lincoln Memorial.
It is winter. The sun will set
early. This means something
though we don’t yet know what

that something is.

Snow falls gently powdering
your body, the hat blue,
hair of spice and silk,

such stuff as dreams are made on.
One step north into the presence
of the Korean War Memorial.

Something about the eyes of a statue.
“Death,” you say, and I dream back
to yesterday when our eyes met

over champagne and oatmeal stout.
You had bought me dinner
and I wanted to kiss you

but I didn’t.

The sun begins to set but stops
behind Lincoln. We step west
and the building glows
in the sun and snow
falling gently.

You stand in front of the statue.
The glow fills in the building
and then you are the glow.

Suddenly I see with the eyes of the statue.
Your fingers move and the movement
ruffles the centuries of human history.

The centuries are not lost to the past.
They are all here at this moment
as all the rings of a tree are here,

hidden until the tree falls
but present all the while.

Indeed, the rings are the tree.

I can feel the monuments behind me crumbling
backward in time, or rather inward
until there is nothing
but the first ring.

“Let it be there,” I say,
“in the first ring that we meet.”

Then I see you, in the first ring,
Emerging as great constellations emerge,
In splendid and cosmic and physical aspect.

“So this is what it is like,” I say,
“The first ring.” But here we cannot meet.
Something. Something falling. It is we who fall.

You touch my cheek and I plummet
through the rings of time, eyes watching,
something falling, but there is no philosophy
in your hand. It is just a hand and has the contour
and human warmth of a hand. For that I am grateful.

The reflecting pool is frozen, bends eastward
a path of clear ice. We can walk on it.
Though I am a stranger and you
a familiar of this place, you
have never walked on
the reflecting pool.

You fall, we laugh, I dust
the snow from your coat.

Tomorrow you would nap while I walked
to 14th and U Street. Something dark
was playing at the Lincoln Theater.
I would pick up food to go
so we could stay in.

We climb from reflecting pool to the western
edge of the Washington Monument, now
see the White House, Jefferson, Lincoln,
and the great dome of the Capitol.

Our vantage must break some transcendent
covenant, the sky shatters, and we rush
beneath the fractured constellations
to the obelisk. Thickening bands
of snow slice into us as we
stretch against the white
stone of the monument.

Last night, before the snow, before the eyes,
the glow, something falling, we saw
The Tempest on Church Street
near Dupont Circle.

I think of us now, alone, adrift
in our snow globe blizzard,
and of Prospero.

A liminal moment. Now all my charms
are o’erthrown, and what strength
I have’s my own, which
is most faint.

A serious hug to bind us against the elements.
Then we step away from the stone blinded
by sky and snow and icy wind, lost
for a moment as if in the Rockies,
where we lived long ago.

The snow ruptures and a jogger comes through.
We follow his footprints north to 15th Street.
Walking, laughing, I take a picture of you
in a halo of powdered sugar.

Would that it were a brave new world.

In the corner bar
of the Old Ebbit Grill I press
my cheek, hot and flushed, against
your cold cheek. A touch removed from
from the causal nexus, from beginnings and ends

motives and goals, a touch
not of friends, not of lovers,
clumsy categories we invent
for convenience. In the first ring
each relationship has its own interface.

Oh if only the language had enough words
would each instance of human contact
have its own name. But in our frailty

we must be friends, lovers, abstractions
without a proper name, only a simple truth:
human touch is the most powerful form of yoga.

I had come two days before
and we stayed up all night. I rubbed
your feet and tried to clear knots by opening
a pathway from your upper back through the arms

and out of the hands and fingers. The movement
across the curve of the neck and the hollow
before the shoulder left an impression
of delicate bones under soft skin, but
also of strong muscles. There was
no nonsense in the muscles.

Now I see the airport blue lights.
I am not sad when we hug at the gate.
But I am suddenly sad a moment later when
you are gone and the eye no longer meets eye,
the touch a ring receding into the core.
It is not we who are falling. It is I.
Imagination transforms reality
but does not break the fall.

(A version of this poem was published in Solid Quarter, Issue 3)

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2 thoughts on “The First Ring

  1. It would appear our revels here are not yet ended.

    Though I just read your work, I have the sense of living within it for a good long time, perhaps a decade.

    My compliments and my gratitude.

    Like

    • Thanks. Your gratitude begets gratitude, and gratitude will stand, though “the great globe itself … shall dissolve / And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, / leave not a rack behind.”

      Like

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