That girl I didn’t love, then because she was going to leave me, loved,
that girl, that Sunday when I stopped by and she was in bed in her
(it only came to me later that somebody else had just been with her),
that girl, when my hand touched her stomach under her nightgown,
began turning her stomach to wood – I hadn’t known this could be
that girls, that humans, could do this – then, when her stomach was
she began turning the rest of herself to perhaps something harder, steel,
or harder; perhaps she was turning herself, her entire, once so soft self,
to some unknown mineral substance found only on other very far
planets with chemical storms and vast, cold ammonia oceans of ice,
and I just had to pretend – I wasn’t taking this lightly, I wasn’t a kid –
that I wasn’t one of those pitted, potato-shaped moons with precarious
and then I was out, in the street – it was still Sunday, though I don’t
recall bells –
and where is she now, dear figment, dear fragment, where are you know,
in your nightgown, in your bed, steel and wood? Dear steel, dear wood.
One branch, I read, of a species of chimpanzees has something like territorial wars,
And when the…army, I suppose you’d call it, of one tribe prevails and captures an enemy,
“Several males hold a hand or foot of the rival so the victim can be damaged at will.”
This is so disquieting: if beings with whom we share so many genes can be this cruel,
What hope for us? Still, “rival”, “victim”, “will” –don’t such anthropomorphic terms
Make those simians’ social-political conflicts sound more brutal than they are?
The chimps Catherine and I saw on their island sanctuary in Uganda we loathed.
Unlike the pacific gorillas in the forest of Bwindi, they fought, dementedly shrieked,
the dominant male lorded it over the rest; they were, in all, too much like us.
Another island from my recent reading, where Columbus, on his last voyage,
encountering some “Indians” who’d greeted him with curiosity and warmth, wrote,
before he chained and enslaved them,” They don’t even know how to kill each other.”
It’s occurred to me I’ve read enough; at my age all I’m doing is confirming my sadness.
Surely the papers: war, terror, torture, corruption – it’s like broken glass in my mind.
Back when I knew nothing, I read all the time, poems, novels, philosophy, myth,
but I hardly glanced at the news, there was a distance between what could happen
and the part of myself I felt with: now everything’s so tight against me I hardly can move.
The Analects say people in the golden age weren’t aware they were governed; they just lived.
Could I have passed through my own golden age and not even known I was there?
Some gold: nuclear rockets aimed at your head, racism, sexism, contempt for the poor.
And there I was, reading. What did I learn? Everything, nothing, too little, too much…
Just enough to get me here: long-faced, white-haired ape with a book, still turning the page.
When the ponies are lead out at dusk, they pound across their pasture,
pitching and bucking like the brutes their genes must dream they still are.
With their shaggy, winter-coarse coats, they seem stubbier than ever,
more diminutive, toy-like, but then they begin their aggression rituals,
ears flattened, stained brown teeth bared, hindquarters humped,
and they’re savage again, cruel, all but carnivorous if they could be.
Their shoes have been pulled off for the season, their halters are rope,
so they move without sound, as though on tiptoe, through the rising mist.
They drift apart now, halfheartedly nosing the stiff, sapless remnants
of field hay – sometimes one will lift and gaze back towards the barn.
A tiny stallion lies down, rolling onto his back first, then all the way flat.
A snort, rich, explosive, an answering sigh: silence again, shadows, dark.
Professor C.K. Williams teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University, and divides his time between Princeton and Paris. Williams is the author of nine collections of poetry and the recipient of multiple awards, including the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for “Repair”; the 2003 National Book Award for “The Singing”; the 2005 the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize; the 1987 National Book Critics Circle Award for “Flesh and Blood”; the 1998 PEN/Voelker Career Achievement in Poetry Award; and the 1999 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.