By Lawrence Markert.
To Carol and Brooke Peirce.
1. A Prelude to Greece (1972)
Twisted in first autumn:
We asked a traveling sailor
How winter came to Greece.
In Rhodes, children gather in excitement
Over an American dressed in white (the island of roses)
And shouting name after name,
Fishermen let their boats cover the shore.
Gray and somehow blue in the sky
Rhodes and the bay,
Who said sea of wine? wintersea.
Yet rose after rose in spring
And summer drying.
Dry wind and the villa:
A thin easter moon
And celibate sky
Over unfurnished land
I said: I’ve heard marble
strain in cold weather,
it’s the view on cool days.
You can catch a glimpse from the beach
An oval in eastern direction.
And Rhodes made of marble,
The island of roses again?
We felt it begin as oats and barley in the field,
A single field/same moon.
Crete, a new wind:
He said: do you remember
and the marble’s edge
in cool wind?
This man spoke of it as a memory,
Women in half distant steps
along the embankments
with the tides below
On the right,
The moon red patio bricks to smooth sand.
Shore-break made rain out of clear night.
The oval touching,
We viewed it and thought of the Atlantic.
2. Last Words (2010)
“Those to whom
the night of earth gives benediction
should not be mourned.”
– Theseus to Atigone and Ismene
Oedipus at Colonus
My animating ghosts sit with me among the gray stones in a tranquil
spring air, both like a breath fine and unpolluted from the mouth.
The carvings, names and dates streaked by the snowmelt,
seem freed from fact and time, like some immutability extracted
from childhood or the mooring that comes from a repeated story.
I ask all to help me asseverate my understanding, the enjambment of loves.
Sorrow fails to fade with the dead, birthed by death it increases,
grows and loosens not even with the warming days and bird luxuries.
The brightening boughs bring back a silent source that hands
now can touch and the nose enjoy. The spreading dignity
of this ground invokes the constant nightingale whose cries
emanate from beneath the lush leaves. She lives, we have been told,
in the wine dark ivy and the shadowy foliage among thousands of berries,
removed from the sun and from the wind of every storm, sacred.
A cherry tree dwarfs the cemetery lines, matches the expanding
contours of past martyrs attempting to climb out of their graves,
lurched by the underground myth now unfrozen. Some last words
come to mind, phrases a saint might utter as her own ashes
gathered at her feet, a promise that transforms moment to miracle.
Twenty years from now, thirty years ago, converge like a garland
handed from hand to hand, a green ring pressed into shape by spirit.
The pitch of the hill conveys a question: When this sequence
becomes complete, who carries on this mission? What troop, living or dying,
will bend its collective head into the cataract and rejoice?
Twenty years from now, should I live, defines my human age to come,
when I will enter that same instant they died, recreate in my mind
their unwilling flight into death. Coincidence presents to us
a new closeness. We rub elbows with another’s withering skin.
Will I recognize as much in that feverish convergence, watch an early
hummingbird hang as vapor? Here it reminds me of other uncertainties,
translations that carry no weight. The second describes what the earth
sometimes provides, an unanticipated promise, circles and squares invented under
a simple sun. These forms set in motion chance meetings, planets aligned
or a moon that emerged full from a cloud, the machinery of ancestry.
The lack of commotion signaled nothing of that beautiful harmony.
Who could have known, without the sudden blows and flatten noses,
what is supplied by maturity? Ripeness knows what it sees; youth sees
what it does not know, an angel swimming across our eyes in rescue.
He left us and she followed just as bewildered by the dark absurdity,
dazzling eyes entrusted to a broken body. In life they drank
from the same source, walked in the same realms of gold
and gave high testimony to the vivid array of gods, a theology
and language sparkling with tradition, love that burned gemlike, flesh
that remained unsullied. She taught me first, name by name, the marvelous
nests, cradles packed with allusions, richer, more fruitful seasons. Our Attic
dialogue gently ruled by clarity and grace. He nourished with other gifts,
shaped other abundances, as in a garden, created fruits and plains,
supplements to the native species. The white flames of plants,
the deep, imbricate blue of the Iris, kept steady a mind bend once on twisting,
a mountain laurel rising at the edge. The smooth bark of his opulence
eased all anarchies. Their house mirrored Penshurst, modest with walks
among naturally tended trees. The early dogwood and the later plum,
each in its time blossoms. How many discovered there the mysteries of manners,
sentiments, and arts? They called forth selves served by a kiss of tranquility.
Can I learn from what they taught the disheveled nature of mourning?
These images press together the very thing they are, the evening star
encouraging thought, an address where the ageless assemble,
that perfumed perfection mirrored in a spring rain
settling now on the limestone quarried near this spot. Their sweet
society sings and avows presence; though far off they are ever nigh.
Lawrence Wayne Markert is University Professor and Professor of English at Hollins University and a former Fulbright Scholar. His poetry has appeared in various literary journals and collections, and, most recently, in a chapbook titled The Widow Poems. He is also the author of The Bloomsbury Group: A Reference Guide and Arthur Symons: Critic of the Seven Arts .
The first of these poems, “A Prelude to Greece,” © 1972 Lawrence Wayne Markert, was first published in The Little Magazine (London) in April 1972 and republished here with permission. This work is one of a series of excerpts from literary and art journals not otherwise available online. Selected works are being republished at irregular intervals in The Fortnightly Review’s New Series. The second poem, “Last Words,” appears here for the first time.