"Beyond Love and Prayer"
Phyllis Hoge Thompson

for Marjorie Sinclair

A wide path rises past a lake
Still as stone reflecting maples--
Their many changes. Leaves--blood-red
Fiery red, scarlet, crimson, green,
Brass and copper and gold--waft
Or drift through duplicated air.

Silence repeats the stone garden.
Only from the plane of the steps
Can the stilled mind observe stones, moss,
And raked pebbles, thinking nothing,
That they may enter the instant
Being unchanged, reflecting where

Doubled unmoving waterfalls
Stand among lilac sand circles,
And gray pebbled grooves link islands,
Their level lines meaning water.
A low wall, rimmed by a low roof,
Slate color, encloses the pale.

What is thought exactly equal
To this, no alien image
Intruding, or bare reverie
Or reasoned phrases. Shade and light
Cross the essential monochrome.
Soundless, the rinsed life rises.


At The Nufuanu Reservoir Pool

Under rinsed thunderclouds
The water lotus glimmers.
From the muddy bottom the long stem wavers upward.

I wanted to show you, but itfs art you love.


Two Photographs

This day, purified by nude, could be the past
Released. This light does not shift: it holds.
Sleet glazes the roads and slate roof-tiles,
And, falling through spread branches of the pines,
Drains even their needles to ice-green celadon.
The afternoon reduces to an old photograph,
Black and white, glassy, its world inward
And without reference, self-reflecting silver, monochrome.

And in this early picture you are standing
In another year, another morning
Written in the brightness of hours off the water
And coastal-shale near Beavertail Lighthouse,
Smiling for the camera. Shades of the one tone
Illuminate your face, your young body,
But no one can read in your eyes the monochrome
Of the life you will have. Itfs hidden behind glasses.

Immanent in the past, the future rests photographed
And unrecognizable. I, who clicked the shot,
Could see through a lens the living image
Of my desire, and I did not know it.
Latent, it lay hidden in a film, caught up
In its loss, saved there, self-sufficient, as I was,
Until time proved the negative, and this day came, fixed,
Silvery, fallen from a past found in a transparency,

Where we will stay as long as the light does not change.


Skeleton Of The Blue Whale
For Jean and Andrew Konnerth

And here in the New Bedford Museum the stripped skeleton
Of the great blue is slowly being assembled

The long ribs arc down the whole length of the room
Articulated in pairs or laid on the floor
Numbered, while the marvelous skull rests in the shelter
Nearby. The skullfs backswept corresponding curves
Resemble a sea birdfs wings or Japanese blades
Or bows bent for the hunt, but are most like wings.

The whalefs bones intimate an astounding body,
The mystery and valor of it, sliding alone
Through the translucent waves of Ofahu or plunging fathoms
Under tons of icy ocean off Nova Scotia
Where no one follows. Only the soul is equal
Sinking into the vast sea that God is

Yielded to the wonder of it, we can handle the bony contours,
Finger the crevices, feel out the shapes of the cavities
The salt water closed over in the wastes of the North Atlantic ?
Our touch more intimate than a loverfs. Yet the whale eludes us.
He slips beneath the visible surface of the sea
And ghostly coasts past sheer underwater cliffs, hunting,
And sings in the absolute dark among the blind
His grave incomprehensible song, and rises.


The House Where He Grew Up

Does he know when he goes back again
As through filtered light that the house had been his
In childhood? The rooms, havens blurred by his tears,
Or airy, rounded. Windows of wavery glass
Gave on to leaves of a dense hedge enclosing a prince.
Himself, reading in the green shine of sun on privet.
Youthful, he may have invented erotic episodes
Known as memories are, fictitious alternatives like dreams.

When he suffered love absolute, and war, he could not stay longer.
Overpowering drama lived clouds the intelligence,
And cracks clear the will. No one come to love or death
Too close can listen to reason.
Alive, he left the house he was born in, home
With its big black kitchen stove and worn linoleum,
Greenhouse off the living room and old carriage house in back,
Dogwood, spiraea, forsythia, snowdrops in the yard.


Dragon Breath

I hunt the old texts, the stories muttered aloud
In various voices, told well or poorly
In hundreds of tongues, or printed, bound in books
Alone or collected.
Dragon breath, killing the grass
Outside the cave, consuming the curled snake,
His kin, asleep in the greenwood, smothers the princes
Who fail. But some Beowulf always comes to save
The stifled land from blight and kill the Dragon.

That's not what I look for. Change is the upshot I want,
Some final answer, just, and unlike any other.
I want the story to end better, not
With some monster benign as a clock, no girl disguised
As a warrior, no Puss in Boots, no hero.
I keep hunting an ending as credible
As that Dragon's breath which blisters the earth. I crave
Answers to what I do not understand-Doom logic--
Some resolution other than death of the Dragon
Which isn't right anyhow.
Words keep telling me words
Were the beginning of every living thing,
And if the end is Dragon breath, I want
To know it.
I want to surrender hope, get on
With it, take what I'm given, forget the jewels
In the cave, live in the shadow of fire, breathe it,
To burn at the end, comprehending how things are.


for Hideo Yokokawa

I have never wanted to do anything other
Than to pull into relation my desire

And, say, this lime-green library full of books
And privet-filtered sunlight, or all those leaves

Dropped from maples. They chatter under my feet
Oh, what about? frippery? they are so light.

Or a broken ukulele beside a grand piano in Montargis.
They mean themselves. Or myself to me.

Or nothing.
I've wanted more.
Hideo told me how sadness wells

Out of cracks in dry earth, moves upward
From the deep underground, like water, like blood.

Michael was wrong, who wrote of us that it's enough --
A man and a woman, loving, want no other life.

("Are we here just for saying House, Bridge, Fountain?")
I've wanted more. Poetry. Relation.



(Snow) (Moon) (Flower) (Inn)
the gift of Hideo Yokokawa

"These characters: What do they signify?"
"Snow. Moon. Flower.
"'Interwoven,' you mean?"
"'Essentially ejoined,' And 'keep.'
As verb. Or as noun, 'inn, house.'"

sweet summer years gone
this inn alone on a hillside
for one night keeps all seasons
close-tangled within

white bound with cold light
and silence by essence joined
black ideograms of atmosphere
a veil made of shadows and sighs

one moist lotus petal
by moonlight laid
into the killing snow
weighs less than cranes' down

by essence joined only
divided by griefs of place
and season moonset hibiscus
flare crimson above snowy plains


A Childhood

First snow had fallen.
Inside, cross-legged on the bare wood floor,
We faced one another.
Wrapped in warm blankets,
We talked all night.
There was no lamp. The moon
Filled the window and flooded the cold room
Moving slowly around the walls
And away by day break.

In half a century
I have been equally happy maybe five times.

You turned twelve in December.

I did not know why I wept all spring
Or what I longed for.



When the lovers of wild things discover hiding places
Their lips curve on a smile
In a pine forest they light on insects
Secret under fallen needles, earthworms under stones.
They are beguiled
Observing the furious scurry and wriggle of life
Back into shelter.
And they will hurt nothing,
Leaving alone even the numb-seeming boulders
And planks of rotting wood, leaf covers and caves.
They will not disturb the trout they see mottled
In a stream's dimpled shallows, immobile,
Nor crush grasses they happen on
Bent where coyotes have lain after hunting the brush
Nor unsettle nests in the cactus
Of gnatcatchers, thrashers, wrens,
Nor trespass on warm slabs of rock
Where a rattler sleeps.

We can tell that the lovers of wild things approve us,
And surely no one will hurt us as we grow wild,
Wilder, even savage as wolves ravening.
We've seen the lovers of wild things smile at us, bemused
As if they've uncovered a secret spring of sweet water
They'll disclose to no one, they'll leave unstirred,
Or a deep, clear well, the first cause of all joy.


At Ninety-two

Dusk seems slow, the drifts of cirrus high.
My eyes still hurt from a sunny haze on the Bay
When the yachts headed out this morning. Gone all day.
Now in the gradually lavender sky
Stars are beginning. So many kinds of light.
I wonder how long I've been in this chair?
At least I'm not hungry. This air
Gets chilly near the ocean though, toward night.

"Warm enough?" My daughter. Voice like mine.
"I've brought you a sweater, Mother. Here. Soon
As I'm through I'll join you, to watch the moon
Come up." Beyond the purple line
Of spruce it will ride out, opalescent, white,
Huge over Newport, as it always does,
Then blue, till nothing is as it was --
The world undisturbed but utterly changed by moonlight.

Like that time at Gibson Island. Blossoming pear.
Full moon. A fragrance touched me. He touched. Who?
Softer than breath. Shivering petals flew
Where I stepped, shaken in windless air,
The night on fire with sweetness. When I tried
To speak, I couldn't . . . tears came. Youth.
I can't speak now. Words in my mouth
Get broken. All I feel is caught inside.

"I'm here now, Mother. I hate staying in
When the moon's rising. Near the wharf -- look there."
The changing moon. What can I do but stare,
A dumb animal, at my close kin?
Half in another world and half in this,
Stricken, and from myself estranged.
In a twinkling we shall all be changed.

Possibly. Death is anybody's guess.
What will become of me? Maybe the soul, set free,
Scatters and clusters the way blue moonbeams break
To the ruffling Narragansett as a wake
Of pear petals. Moon blossoming sea.
The vision blurs. Too dark and bright. It's cold.
Light washes. Nothing. Null. The deep.
The years that empty into sleep.
It's damp out. Time to be taken in. I'm old.

for Eleanor, my sister


Tom Singerfs Bracelet

I've worn this inlaid silver on my wrist
For years, its obscure shine
Like music from a nearby room. The stones impressed
Are turquoise and coral; design,
Stylized ocean and earth. I love it, dull
For having been worn. Beautiful.

But often lately I've laid it aside, for a rage
Singing in the wasting blood
Which shrivels my skin. This flesh I've borne into age
Is freckle-spotted--good
And sturdy for a soul's old house, but cruel
To the clear water of a jewel.

Necklaces, bracelets, and rings -- trivial or wrong,
I've thought, to prank the body
With spangles, grandmothers' vanity. It's taken me long
To see jewels as not gaudy
But beautiful--the stones, dense flowers of fire,
The metal, tough as desire.

This bracelet which Tom Singer made carries his mark.
Those who wear beautiful things
Display not opulent bodies but God's handiwork.
From grace such beauty springs.
Beauty is: beauty cannot adorn.
This bracelet was made to be worn.



The Great Buddha!—oh,
his lap must be all filled with it
cherry blossom snow.
-- Kikaku

A cold November day. My friend and I
Walking among the barren cherry trees
Watch her children play along the path
To a tmple I have a thousand times imagined.
None of them sees
Mayfs myriad soft blossoms in my mind,
Everywhere adrift,
Glistening the air around the Buddha,
White star petal flakes floating,
While I gaze into his tender gaze.
Mrs. Aoi calls to her children
Who run to her side, laughing.
gTime to take the train.h
Time—this minute, this lucent minute,
gTime to take the train back home.h



On the last day of the year
I came to the forested mountain.
The first snow lay new fallen
Where I walked in the evergreens. Here,

Among snow laden pines in the cold,
Broke a vision of the year just past,
And I foundered. All I had lost
Bore down. Sunlight too old

To be fire began to fade.
Dark bit the frozen track.
Wind thrummed against my back.
Quiet, within blue shade,

I shouldered the weight. How deep
The windy stillness, easing
Disquiet of heart, freezing
Time to an instant. A sleep

Of snow enclosed my loss.
Yet nothing is harder to bear
On Earth than love, as near
To grief as to solace.



The air is still as glass—
sheer cold, pure, breakable.
The little birds, puffed up in their brown feathers,
bunch together under the rhododendrons.
They pull themselves into themselves and wait
for what comes.

The bees have grown logy,
their honeycombs heavy with amber,
Keen mornings inside their weighted hives
they trace familiar paths, feelers
delicately slow about their accurate hexagons.
In noonfs lucidity some few buzz out,
to coast close by.
Stems, leaves and flowers, theyfve all turned brittle.

Outside-cats cope somehow
or starve in the pale sun. House-cats
incline to comfort more. They eat more.
They sleep more. Their fur softens, grows denser.
Stroked, they respond with a cushiony purr,
nudge drowsily, curl their forepaws, turn onto their backs,
responsible for nothing.

Whatever it is about animals in winter
I want a share of.
This is a love poem.


If you in a high fever on your last day on Earth
   Ask for snow, I will faithfully bring it to you
      In a blue bowl patterned with chrysanthemums—flowers
         I think of as yours, because we met in a cold fall
            Long ago. Many years now. But it was not till mid-winter
               We kissed, when we witnessed great wind-driven slabs of ice
            Cracked over one another in a pile on the lake shore. That ice
              And white blizzard drove us together, seeking in winter
            Warm human company against that terrifying fall
         Of beauty, sun blades burnt in ice, blunted in flowers
      Of snow crystals. Though I could not even then go with you,
The taste of new snow might ease you, falling to earth.

And if I am first, what I would ask for, you
   Could not give me then—the many years we have lost, a history,
      Dream-children, family—all abstracts of love, nothing
         So tangible as snow. Yet, your warm hand gripping my hand
         At deathfs edge, as you do now, the strong pulse in your wrist
            Against mine, your blood would beat the last rhythms on Earth
               For me. And I would ask you to speak again words as plain as earth.
            Those plain words, spelled into my ear, would change at my wrist
         To a memory of mint and white peaches. Your words in my hand
      Would close on the sharp smell of bonfires, leaves burning, nothing
   Left at the last but ashes and our own obscure history
In plain words falling to earth. And, last, I would leave you.