November 2000

Richard Tillinghast


Richard Tillinghast is the author of seven books of poetry. His most recent is Six Mile Mountain, published in August by Story Line Press. He has also published a critical memoir, Robert Lowell's Life and Work: Damaged Grandeur (University of Michigan Press, 1995), and has recorded a poetry/music CD, My Only Friends Were the Wolves, with the jazz fusion group, Poignant Plecostomus, available from his website.
First It Is Taken Away From Me    Click to hear in real audio

And now I am home again.
I can sit out in my pajama bottoms,
                      two cats sprawled
belly-down on the warm deck boards
                to converse with
the Saturday after Father's Day.
The air is soaked with moisture
as a rum cake is with rum.

Like a tourist, like a slow boater,
          like a firefly past the solstice,
I hover and scull and wobble
through these haunts and currents and air-pockets—
the day's emptiness
      radiant in the hollow of my spine.

Of the hospital I remember only:
Dry mouth, cold feet, rough dreams.
Nausea of waxed linoleum
down a hall the gurney ran along
           at scaresome speed.
The gabble of television sets,
and an ambient equipoise of low voices
           leaking through half-closed doors.
The graph of the monitor repeated, repeated, repeated.

Burgundy velvet like the robe of the grand vizier,
the clematis blossoms like big sagging stars
                        or moonfish
soak light in and collapse it into their mystery.

The clematis plays Juliet on her balcony,
bosoming out into moonlight,
giving herself, ripe with the desire to be known,
wishing to taste and be
          permeated by the world,
    as if she'd never breathed air till now.

That's how it is with me,
            wing-shot and hampered as I am,
idly rubbing the IV tape marks off my arm.

First it is taken away from me,
then it is given back.



How To Get There    Click to hear in real audio

Take the old road out of town.
Follow it
to where crabgrass
snaggles up through cracks in the old concrete
and the day turns chilly.
The sky you thought
roofed summer and a lake,
picnics and beach towels and an Indigo
Bunting poised on the finial of a jack pine
contains, instead, Canada as seen on weather radar—
flurries, and an air-blast
from shores where ice-floes crumble off a glacier.

Bear south when you spot
a pillar of cumulus stacked up in the heartbreaking
dense blue above a bungalow where
a man and a woman in canvas lawn chairs
sit with their backs turned to each other,
and a tow-headed kid
maneuvers a nicked yellow toy dump truck
through a canyon ten inches deep,
while black ants observe.

Don't stop. You can't stop. Keep going
until you reach an intersection
where thunder percusses the shuddering inner spaces of sky
and lightens from within
cloud-pockets going dove-grey and gun-metal blue—
past a '48 straight-eight Buick
and thumb-sucking and daydreams,
past words like destination, and hot and cold
and shame and regret
and starry diadem and Old Town canoe.

Keep driving
through the gap that opens between two novice heartbeats.
Before decades, before skies, before the first summer,
before any knowledge of roads and weather.
Back to where you are an infant again, open-mouthed,
and the whole world lies in wait for your wondering eyes.



Richard Tillinghast: Poetry
Copyright 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 14The Cortland Review