On Visiting a Borrowed Country House in Arcadia


To leave the city
Always takes a quarrel. Without warning,
Rancors that have gathered half the morning
Like things to pack, or a migraine, or a cloud,
Are suddenly allowed
To strike. They strike the same place twice.
We start by straining to be nice,
The say something shitty.

Isn't it funny
How it's what has to happen
To make the unseen ivory gates swing open,
The rite we must perform so we can leave?
Always we must grieve
Our botched happiness: we goad
Each other till we pull to the hard shoulder of the road,
Yielding to tears inadequate as money.

But if instead
Of turning back, we drive into the day,
We forget the things we didn't say.
The silence fills with row on row
Of vines or olive trees. The radio
Hums to itself. We make our way between
Saronic blue and hills of glaucous green
And thread

Beyond the legend of the map
Through footnote towns along the coast
That boast
Ruins of no account–a column
More woebegone than solemn–
Men watching soccer at the two cafes
And half-built lots where dingy sheep still graze.
Climbing into the lap

Of the mountains now, we wind
Around blind, centrifugal turns.
The sun's great warship sinks and burns.
And where the roads without a sign are crossed,
We (inevitably) get lost.
Yet to be lost here
Still feels like being somewhere,
And we find

When we arrive and park,
No one minds that we are late–
There is no one to wait–
Only a bed to make, a suitcase to unpack.
The earth has turned her back
On one yellow middling star
To consider lights more various and far.
The shaggy mountains hulk into the dark

Or loom
Like slow, titanic waves. The cries
Of owls dilate the shadows. Weird harmonies rise
From the valley's distant glow, where coal
Extracted from the lignite mines must roll
On acres of conveyor belts that sing
The Pythagorean music of a string.
A huge grey plume

Of smoke or steam
Towers like the ghost of a monstrous flame
Or giant tree among the trees. And it is all the same–
The power plant, the forest, and the night,
The manmade light.
We are engulfed in an immense
Ancient indifference
That does not sleep or dream.

Call it Nature if you will,
Though everything that is is natural–
The lignite-bearing earth, the factory,
A darkness taller than the sky–
This out-of-doors that wins us our release
And temporary peace–
Not because it is pristine or pretty,
But because it has no pity or self-pity.


A.E. Stallings, Poetry, The Poetry Foundation, June, 2007.