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MERRILL, James



Poem of Summer's End


The morning of the equinox

Begins with brassy clouds and cocks.

All the inn’s shutters clatter wide

Upon Fair Umbria. Twitching at my side

You burrow in sleep like a red fox.


Mostly, these weeks, we toss all night, we touch

By accident. The heat! The food!

Groggily aware of spots that itch

I curse the tiny creatures which

Have flecked our mended sheets with blood.


At noon in a high wind, to bell and song,

Upon the shoulders of the throng,

The gilt bronze image of St. So-and-So

Heaves precipitously along.

Worship has worn away his toe,


Nevertheless the foot, thrust forward, dips

Again, again, into its doom of lips

And tears, a vortex of black shawls,

Garlic, frankincense, Popery, festivals

Held at the moon’s eclipse,


As in their trance the faithful pass

On to piazza and cafe.

We go deliberately the other way

Through the town gates, lie down in grass.

But the wind howls, the sky turns color-of-clay.


The time for making love is done.

A far off, sulphur-pale facade

Gleams and goes out. It is as though by one

Flash of lightning all things made

Had glimpsed their maker’s heart, read and obeyed.


Back on our bed of iron and lace

We listen to the loud rain fracture space,

And let at first each other’s hair

Be lost in gloom, then lips, then the whole face.

If either speaks the other does not hear.


For a decade love has rained down

On our two hearts, instructing them

In a strange bareness, that of weathered stone.

Thinking how bare our hearts have grown

I do not know if I feel pride or shame.


The time has passed to go and eat.

Has it? I do not know. A beam of light

Reveals you calm but strangely white.

A final drop of rain clicks in the street.

Somewhere a clock strikes. It is not too late


To set out dazed, sit side by side

In the one decent restaurant.

The handsome boy who has already tried

To interest you (and been half gratified)

Helps us to think of what we want.


I do not know – have I ever known? – Unless

concealed in the next town,

In the next image blind with use, a clue,

A worn path, points the long way round back to

The springs we started out from. Sun


Weaker each sunrise reddens that slow maze

So freely entered. Now come days

When lover and beloved know

That love is what they are and where they go.

Each learns to read at length the other’s gaze