‘That love, all love, all kinds, descriptions, and shapes,
Is but a mask to hide the brute face of fact,
And that fact is the immitigable ferocity of self …’
— Robert Penn Warren, Brother to Dragons
The room, if he could close his eyes,
is ready to turn
like an edgy carousel straining
against its brake. Beyond
the window-glass, beyond the web
of gossamer dust gathering
in the high corners of the white frame,
the sun is sculpting the superb oak:
the clouds, if he could look,
are pushing its warped branches back,
the canopy sways,
the world grows dizzy but the tree
stays. Perhaps it knows.
The room sways too, but a flow
ever so slight,
like a great ship ruminating
on its infinite field.
The desk, if he could let it go,
is pushing up at him,
the pictures hung about the room glow
with resentment, old prints
of windmills and Parisian streets
and the portrait of a boy
Beethoven. The bookcases as usual
accuse, if he could hear them,
and threaten to collapse
almost immediately but never will;
he nearly regrets this,
and the flimsy ornamental bell,
and the porcelain frog,
and the pair of matching bookend violins
he couldn’t help grabbing
for ten thousand lire in Milan,
and the uncut Ungaretti
for a song in Rome. The carpet
is shimmering too.
Where has he seen this moment before?
The clock goes on
like a clucking prude, the lamp
with its silly shade (those yellow pelicans
and harps) must fall,
if he could lift his eyes, and the dark
walnut wardrobe with its cracked lock,
crammed with cigar-boxes,
his French children’s books and maps
of the Levant and aquatints
of the Barbary Coast is climbing the wall
of the room, to lick the sun,
if he could turn away.
He reopens the hatch
of his thoughts, he lifts the lid
of the box of words in his eye. He wonders
about Penn Warren’s ‘brute face of fact’,
his finger traces
the typographer’s American design.
His finger traces the mask, the face,
the poet’s sum:
‘the immitigable ferocity of self’.
It is the world, it is
the room. What was it Milton said?
Destruction with destruction
to destroy … He looks that up as well:
Book Ten — Eve’s tempting
of a barren self-death.
He rereads the line. It begins
to crawl off the page,
into his skin and, if he could feel it,
settle inside. He listens,
attentively. Listens for the first time
to the dull fire roaring
under his breath.
© Alex Skovron