Cool Dark Ode


You could have sneaked up,
Broken into those overheated rooms
By the windows overlooking the tavern,
Or the back way, by the broad but unlighted stairs,
When the long planed table that served as a desk
Was recalling the quiet of the woods,
When the books, older, were thinking farther back
To the same essential stillness,
And both the table and books, if they thought of the future ever,
Probably shuddered, as though from a stray draft,
Seeing themselves as eventual flame,
Some final smoke.

Now, when there is no longer any occasion,
I think of inviting you in
To wait for us
On the short, cramped sofa,
Beside the single candle stub
Which must have frightened you off then,
Or in the cubicle of the bedroom,
Where even then we imagined ourselves extinguished
By your total embrace,
Attentive meanwhile to the animal noises of your breathing,
The whimpers,
The sudden intoxicated outcries,
That were not our own.

Night, night, O blackness of winter,
I tell you this, you
That used to come up as far as the frosted panes, the door,
As far as the edges of our skin,
Without any thought, I know now,
Of entering those borrowed rooms,
Or even our mouths, our eyes,
Which all too often were carelessly left open for you.


                                                from Three Odes, 1


Donald Justice, New and Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.