I love the blue goat with her intelligent
and patient head, her one ear for listening
to the sound of the pail and the milker.
I love the way she curls
her castanet hooves
beneath the black and white
angularity of bones
like a young girl from a hot country
whose first virtue is patience.
The energy erupted
from his hands like bells in the campanile
ringing out for a wedding.
For him sea urchins smiled from their plates,
the picador’s horse bowed
to his mortal enemy the bull.
So much forgiveness simply
does not occur to me. A woman leans from a window
of the museum to corroborate his findings
and I look into her eyes: Antibes—
the long reach of the yellow
beach, sheets of ocean laid across
one another like lovers.
In her eyes a plant-woman dances
among goats and satyrs,
bathers sit beneath striped umbrellas and sip
cold drinks, it is impossible
to tell the children
from the other animals or the little
fish laughing and teasing one another
in the transparencies of blue.
The sound of flutes accompanies a yellow sailboat
drifting in a questionable direction
across a Cubist sea.
When the wedding guests stand in the glare
of the sun, they are refracted once
by light, twice by the supernatural
play of his invention.
The light that stabs the blue carpet is familiar, concentrated.
You hunch at your desk writing a paper
for junior English, still wearing your school clothes.
Your mother has gone to the market, your sister is having
her lesson. It is the first warm afternoon in April
in Philadelphia where you have spent every spring
squinting beneath your desk lamp. Outside dogs graze hedges
and catch new shoots in their wiry hair. You are still so far
from the simplest destinations; knowing this makes you slow down
and stare out the window as if you could conjure
your best friend, working on her paper across town.
You flop onto the bed and a voice comes into the room.
She tells you to take off your skirt.
With indifference, the voice instructs your hand
and you are surprised at how the words move you
up and down on the bed and how the phrases press your stomach
into the sheets. You have never heard this timbre
in a voice before. Like breath at your ear, the air whirls
electric against your skin, chords vibrate in your arms
and you know you will grow up listening for this woman.
The voice blows syllables and you utter them now, with her, as though
there had always been two worlds and you’d inhabited that
other one, calling and breathing across a vast and private space.
Because you were in Navaho Nation, which is a nation, within
a state, within a nation, there is nothing you can do. He stood
silent, eyes averted, waiting, and when the authorities came,
he did not give his name, address, or reason for slamming you
clear across the highway from behind. You’ve gathered clay
from every county in the state and trusted the magic of
feathers, bone, deer hoof, animal hair. At the pueblos, in
the terrible heat, you listen to the drums, penitent, sweat
pouring down your face.
But he has no insurance, and the tribal elders and the lawyer
from the B.I.A. explain that everyone needs a car or truck in
New Mexico, insurance isn’t mandatory, you were on Indian land.
When you tell me the story, you have changed the point of view.
No longer victim, you’ve become a witness to the accident,
to the slaughter of the Indians, to the years of food stamps
and lousy jobs. In Shiprock, New Mexico, you stand in her
shadow, the only shaded spot for miles.
The desert of northern New Mexico
stretches behind the garden
punishing cactus in a hot blue bed.
Civilization begins with the Russian Olive
and the Chinese Elm.
This year all the trees are full.
Early apricots cluster, and greengage
plums dapple the adobe wall.
We walk what you call your English garden
for its wild and unlikely flowers.
You call them by their Latin names
like the strict uncle who wants to be firm
but loves his brother’s children for their flaws.
One blazes bright in the morning and wilts by noon;
another flowers before its time.
We turn to the orchard, your prize,
and I think of the stubborn Jews
who, throughout my childhood, made oranges
grow in the desert. A miracle, my father would say.
You understand? A miracle.
Twilight. You reach for your hose
and water disappears into the sandy soil.
Inside, you show me an oversized book
of photographs taken in the Warsaw ghetto
before everything beautiful burned.
All poems except “Picasso” and “Like Breath At Your Ear” reprinted from Giacometti’s Dog, by Robin Becker, by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press, © 1990 by Robin Becker.