N. M. Hoffman
for Gordon Morrell
Thus, by a sudden glance, by some
perturbation when the day ended
and the night came down, a mist.
The moon on the particles of mist
made columns of shimmering air.
Velvet and silk in lined fields forced
The hearers to see a broken hull in sand,
bonfires blazing along the Lido.
Trajectory out of the temple, Time.
Shadows playing over the canal
of the ear, the earnest attempt of the eye
to hear. Is it music? These kinds of sound,
music seen, not merely heard? And, then,
some mystery opens out into silken
dark, an apprehension in the listening
where history is only a kind of weather now.
Venice is never far. No recent loss,
no last magenta flood could annihilate
the recollections of it, the feel of its humblest
stones. The shattering of the world’s
knowability does not erase its stamp.
Yet threats are everywhere, waters rise,
oh, yes! and chaos is close to home, as near
as a levee that is stove in by a touch, as fires
seering hill face or towers burning in the yard.
Between this lay of the land and the heavens,
in that space, a borderlessness of sense
ascends. There is a switchback for the eye
to climb along, the scent of open sea.
Then the taste of salt stings the tongue and
down the greying lawn of beach, a red shirt
attracts the final light. The line of blue hull
sinks into wood smoke and there is the taste of ash.
Exactions of the personal liability to go
forward need be neither lovely nor just.
Memory’s cliff face is sheer above
quiet pools of love below.
On the Lido, drifting
in the sweet old world, arms around this idea of Love,
dusting it off along a winding trail. “Yes,” we were saying
to the drop off of the land, “yes!” and it came real,
a wedding pieced out of our youth, a willowy, goddess
wife, and the slender arms and shoulders of two nymphan
daughters emerge into the fire circle. We achieved
the mathematics that made their generosity possible through
silver, disparate dreams. It was the World we loved then,
with them as yet unknown, a duty of our olden selves, in haze,
in an equation of confusion, on the Lido, not yet found but
these riches all in view.
From le Due Torri
later, towering three hundred feet above the idea
of the past, and from a photo of the Grand Canal,
an oppositional moment emerges. Soft toward sky,
hard toward norms and expectations. Rich inner,
empty outer world in a sand field by the sea.
Everything at once became fluted in a spiral, sharp,
shapely, but unformed. It was a seeing in that haze,
over the night beach with the driftwood heaps ablaze.
And there was no poetry in it, not at all, yet
the opposite, the poetical encumbrance, surfaced
as a distant charm.
And so, my uniquest
Darling, as a country goes astray only to
Right itself and become borderless forever -
Out of the diverse nature of your love and,
Kept in your generous grasp, the moon rays
Overflowed the craggy path. It was a science to
Understand the triumph of the heart. There were
No boundaries that could not be crossed, and
Keen to ascend, we ascended - no loss, no dream
Or longing too great, with sea birds singing
Vehemently, winging up the gorge.
The inwardness of personal
time gave way to consummate acts of rendering. Views from
partings on the Lido dissolved as, later, from the vaporetto, steam
rose up and disappeared.
* On August 23, 2006, The New York Times reported that one of the winners of the Fields Medal, that “Prestigious Award, ‘Nobel’ of Mathematics,” was awarded at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid to four people, including a certain “Dr. [Andrei] Okounkov, born in 1969 in Moscow, who was recognized for work linking different fields of mathematics that had seemed unrelated. … Dr. Okounkov’s work has been found useful in describing the changing surfaces of melting crystals. The boundary between melted and nonmelted is created randomly, but the random process inevitably produces a border in the shape of a heart.”
To acknowledge this interesting work, I embedded Dr. Okounkov’s name acrostically in the final curtal sonnet.