One takes the dark valise that one has taken
on specific occasions before this
when there were voyages to be embarked on.
What recommends it is, simply, its size:
small enough to hold just what it should hold,
just what one wishes, or needs, it to hold.
The morning of departure, but not sooner
(readiness plays no part: one can be said
to be as ready to leave as not ready),
one places in it (fever slowly mounting
as one handles each object) the essentials:
soap, a small towel, pencils, paper, swimtrunks.
One’s hopes run high. Flushed with anticipation
of distance, distances, drunk with the prospect
of whatever may still be possible
in one’s life, south of here, the fierce, bleached splendor
of exploration, sensing how light pours there,
how the surf breaks there, how the dark comes down,
one is nevertheless visibly cautious
not to betray, too much, too soon, too deeply,
the precise nature (word, or glance, or gesture)
of what it is to be possessed by that,
gripped by the sum of the still-undisclosed.
(What is the word with which one translates fever?)
Nor need that coast be named yet in this poem,
though it may be enough, more than enough,
to know its syllables lie drenched with music,
music more intimate, perhaps, or darker,
more moving, left to one’s imagination.
One travels south, far south. There is a beach
(rather, mile upon mile of dazzling beaches),
a long strand sweeping out from where one stands,
from wherever one stands, in all directions.
One arrives, of course, without reservations
at a hotel neither crumbling nor grand.
It may be better not to be expected
nor, when asked, to give one’s name at the desk,
never to say where one has been before this
nor to reveal where one may venture next.
Be vague, elusive, abstract, noncommittal:
I may just stay, you say, indefinitely,
or: I have not decided what my plans are.
A boy who may be named Fernando shows you
your room, takes your valise (You travel light),
opens the terrace door, waits for your tip.
You thank him. When he leaves, you look about you.
Not finding what you want, you call the desk:
Could you provide a table, nothing large,
I might keep on the balcony to write on?
And could these curtains (sheer, white muslin curtains,
if there are curtains) be stripped from the windows?
I want to have whatever light comes down,
whatever darkness, for that matter, too.
A boy who may be named Emilio enters
at six, bearing a table on his back,
a small, square, wooden table, its four legs
listing to starboard when he sets it down.
You want to write on this? he asks. I nod.
I thought I’d write while looking out to sea.
He moves the table to the balcony.
Like this? he asks. Like that, I say, and thank him.
You want the curtains down? he asks. Yes, please.
He makes the tour, one window, then the next,
standing on a chair carefully removes
one sheer, white muslin curtain, then another,
if there are curtains, holds them to the light,
where they dangle and sway from his bare arm.
You don’t like curtains? he asks.
I want light, more light; I want as much as I can have.
(This is enough for a boy sent upstairs
on a mission having to do with curtains,
with light, more light, with small, crude, wooden tables,
enough for a boy who may, or may not,
be named Diego. One nods, smiles, says Thank you,
explaining nothing, all the while, nothing, nothing.)
I place a book beneath one buckled leg,
a cigarette pack, ancient, musty, found
in the bureau drawer, beneath another.
I rock it back and forth. It hardly moves now.
I undress, store my clothes. Light pours, light pours.
I change into the swimtrunks I have brought.
Arrayed in scales of green-gold, iridescent,
a baby lizard strolls across one wall
for a glimpse of Room 201’s new guest,
closing and opening its armored lids
with some momentous effort (one should look
wisely, judiciously, or not at all).
From the valise, propped high on the low bed,
I take the pencils first, immensely yellow,
lacquered finishes blazing in the sun,
in ascending order, shortest to tallest,
according to length line them on the table,
their points flawless, immaculate, black, gleaming.
Then I remove the paper I have brought,
blindingly white, crisp, unlined, neither weighted
nor flimsy, unbound sheets which seem almost
eager to rise to take whatever mark
one might be called upon to draw across them
(the word for light, perhaps, the word for evening).
I sit now at the table, feel the heat
settle like birds, great birds, on both my shoulders,
one on each, see a swimmer take the breakers
as opulently as the sea takes light.
Soon the dark will have changed the sky to water,
or the water to sky, it hardly matters.
Wild bougainvillea rattles the bright shutters.
One’s eye travels to the first of the pencils.
I touch it, grip it tenderly, begin.
This is the poem one has come to write,
the poem one thinks of as ultimate.
This is the music, this, one had in mind.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 4 Number 4, on page 51
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