|Apr/May 2014 Poetry Special Feature|
Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream
At night, he dreams of them.
By day, he tours the coast—on roads
as thin as ribbons, long as beams of light,
a satchel full of measurements and photographs,
his notes of questions to the last few keepers.
Now he thinks he understands
that searching look that comes into their eyes,
the way their conversation shifts,
like pebbles on the ocean bed, how they
would seem to know a coming storm
from distant changes in the sea and sky.
He'd watched as they would smile
at things just out of sight, visitors in their own
thoughts: a glance into the half-distance,
an invisible alteration of the elements.
And so he's kept account, noting down
as one by one they've fallen into disuse, neglect,
decay. He'll start to tell their story, then
stop, as if he knows he'll never make you feel
his will to save, to illuminate the world,
one great sweep at a time.
These days, you know more of the dead—
ones you loved now rubbing shoulders
with old friends, colleagues, that man
you used to see at the market. It's fine—
and when they come
you're just a little more prepared:
the back of a head on the train,
a familiar kind of laugh—or something
that surprises, like the way light scatters
in ribbons across a lake in the wind,
a sudden scent of crushed angelica,
or a sense of movement in the dark
outside your kitchen door. But not
at your command—a question
to be asked, a face you feel the need to see,
displaced by the slight push of others
crowding, more from year to year. They're
there, wherever "there" might be: as the space
where light from one room illuminates another
and for a moment you see more clearly than ever.