Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Breeze from the sun on Ho
Plaza high above Ithaca on the Cornell
campus: I think eastward ho:
there’s something vaguely Maoist
about that name, a gathering place
hardly revolutionary, a concrete
climb past chapel and student center
to the two big libraries
and beyond them the Arts and Sciences
quad: strangely unstrange
to be back here where I was a student
for the last time—now I’m a prof
(E. Bishop: you are one of them) and life
has moved more or less smoothly
along a gentle arc whose fierceness
is mine to discover probably too late
the first time my back goes out or
my daughter screams she hates me
or I come to feel, as now I could never feel,
that I’ve read all the books. Youth
yet obtains perched here on a rock wall
watching people in their early to mid twenties
pass by on the way to summer classes
or to study or otherwise to maintain fidelity
to some idea of themselves as exceptional
in this little city on a hill
above the other little city
in the raked declivities of these lakes
where the collective gravity seems to flow
ineluctably southeast toward the Hudson
and New York, where history or at least fashion
work hard at being visible. Birds
call to each other and whole branches
of trees disclose a sense of idyllic
height, above earthly concerns and yet
so clearly of the earth, the worked harmony
of ivy and stone, lawns left a little ragged,
clear isolate shadows cast by a sun
that makes itself scarce in the winter months
when the real grind happens and the mental
and actual bodies pause
before hurling or not hurling themselves over bridges
into the famous gorges. A few days
remain, we won’t quite outlast the month
before packing into the car
and returning to Chicago. What
will I miss but this moment
if I go on thinking about moments
to come, split from the seeming unity
of being and typing without looking
so I can see how still the Victorian
lamppost there is against the motile
background of shrubbery: BAM
the chime just sounded from the clock tower
to my right: it’s suffocatingly loud, always
vexed me as a student how a supposed shrine
to learning insists on disrupting your concentration
with hellish peals on the quarter-hour
and that’s not even to mention
the childish songs played childishly every day
which go on for endless minutes, one
off key note at a time:
“Here Comes the Sun” and the alma mater
busting open your book of theory
till there’s nothing left to do
but start the long downhill home.
In a bit I’ll disappear into the archives
to get a taste of Archie’s materialism:
they’ve got the tape for the turn of the year
down there and innumerable other documents
typed and handwritten and crisping
under the effects of oxygen in spite
of the archivists’ efforts: I’ll behold
one of the last generations
to leave an authentic paper trail: if
someone ever wants to study my work
they’ll have to somehow simulate conditions
of digitality no doubt more ephemeral
than the letters and manuscripts that await me:
I envision powerful simulators
of different decades in digital evolution
to render environments of information
as they appeared to the ancients, us.
Will the sky I feel above me
or the view I know’s behind that tower
of the lake be any more durable?
Both feet falling asleep
and the morning has passed me by.

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