How could I say: he bounded when he walked.
How could I say: when he came home at night,
A gust of snowy air around his coat,
I drew him closer, holding his lapels;
He caught me by the wrists and closed his eyes.
How could I say I tried to memorize
The truthful face, his smile a truthful blaze
Untrammeled still. I tried to learn by heart
The light-brouwn gaze: unguarded chrysolite
From such another world that heaven made.
Left iris, with a comet-fleck of gold.
How could I memorize his gentle ways.
The way he mingled friendliness with passion,
Plain dealing, open-handed, unafraid.
The swift, reflexive generosity.
His striking conversation, magic ease
In seeking what the other could, then more,
In understanding, warmly understood;
A quest for truth but not certainty.
And the integrity I idolized:
Another's mystery never trifled with.
No one was belittled in those eyes.
I found a phone booth, place to bawl unheard,
And sank beneath its automatic light.
The phone book hanging from a broken chain -
I drew it to my lap, a sprawling weight
Of paper pulp from long-forgotten trees
Snuffed-out and boiled down and pressed in sheets
Of ashen paper, faintly blue and gray,
A book unreadable and authorless,
A mystical directory of the living,
Each page a random sample of Creation
And changing version of the Book of Life;
I ran my glove over the listings: throngs;
And found his name, still listed with the living,
Whose stories vanish, leaving only names
Recycled and reused. This faring on
And on, O mendicants. And overheard.
A page that can't be turned. He can't survive.
But let him live. My gloves pressing my eyes,
A thousand stars rotating inwardly
A millimeter past the streamered dark,
And nameless comet-phosphenes streking by.
With an alter, death. Without a place.
Gjertud Schnackenberg, from 'Venus Velvet no. 2,' in Heavenly Questions