Duino Elegies: The Second Elegy
Angels scare me with their wings big as the street I grew up on, with its
fast-dying trees and funny birds whose names I could never connect with
their songs. I knew a kid named Toby
who was an angel the day the burglars broke into his house
and was glad for the death penalty as they stood at the front door
(young men as young men looking in the window).
That big angel to the stars couldn’t have navigated the little staircase that led
right into my bedroom, or supported even with his whole weight what the steel
legs of my desk supported. (Who’s there?)
I was lucky that there was a shopping mall
just down the road, and that it was a bus terminal too in the morning,
where all the buses started.
The mall had bright lights, hallways, stairways, elevators,
rooms full of candy and outerwear and lots of angels
tumbling head over heels in front of the
mirrors where I looked at myself and checked my
chin for signs of acne.
It’s funny how the snow always seemed to melt the day before Christmas,
snowflake by snowflake, but lingering like the smell
of onions stir-frying in the kitchen before it’s carried away by the vent.
I am trying to remember the first time I saw blood on my pillow
from a nosebleed, which was of course dried to brown by the time I would have seen it.
Then there was a pretty girl named Sabrina who I wrote stories about
inside my head, her grassy, dewy face
going farther and farther away from me
like the steam off lasagna, which I always imagined must be really good
because Garfield talked about it all the time, till I had it and it was fine. Hey kid,
where are you going with that training-wheel heart?
We’re so big
to ourselves and to all the angels
who throw back everything we say at us like
rubber and glue.
My first mixed drink
was served to me in a plastic dorm-room cup,
and all the girls were sick on the bus back home,
heads and stomachs swirling. (Not that they’d remember.)
Lovers don’t know how to say anything
at night, as if everything were behind a hedge or shrubbery.
See? My old house is still standing there like an angel, though
repainted a hideous shade of tan and all the landscaping dug up
as I drive by alone in my car.
And the street is as quiet as it would have been
on August 23, 1981, just after the start of school.
Lovers, like angels, never have the answers
to any of the questions you really want to know. I learned proofs
in geometry class at about the same time my hands realized they were hands
and could do things, instead of just hanging there, or holding my face
inside of them. That
tickles. But does it seem worth it to live just for the next Star Trek episode?
Everybody always thinks I’m much shorter than I
actually am, except me, I think I’m taller , but
no more. In my hands
the cup fills with a liquid like Sunday school grape juice,
which is disappearing because I am drinking
it: but why am I telling you this? I know
how to paint over an unattractive surface
from watching Trading Spaces (I love
Vern and hate Doug), but I wonder if the people miss
their old crappy kitchen countertops. They’re promised
a brand new room. But it’s really just the same
old room painted over, with nicer window
treatments, maybe a walk-in pantry, a garden
box, isn’t it? When you lift up your glass
from your new coffee table and bring your lips to the rim,
the stain on your shirt will be just as bad.
Wasn’t it weird the first time you saw the grave
where your grandfather was buried? Were you resentful
that, to spare your feelings, your parents wouldn’t let you
go to the funeral? Remember your hands
making drawings of weightless hospitals and severed torsos and angels
until your teacher thought you had gone too far?
This one’s ours, your parents must have said when they took you home.
But that’s their problem.
If I could only discover another place like
that again, where dead fish washed up
on the beach and scared me out of my skin,
just like they did. Or when the boat went out
so far that I couldn’t follow it and had to be content
with the angels in those greater, godlike pictures.