My loud machine for making hay
Mutters about our work today;
Through bushes and small trees it flails-
Blueberry, sumac, cheery, bay.

I lay the little woods in swales
To burn them as the daylight fails
For no surviving horse or cow
Is fed such crazy salad bales.

They fall like jackstraws, anyhow,
Or like the forest, trunk and bough
That harder hands and will than these
Burned once, where it is meadow now.

I side with meadow against trees
Because of woodsmoke in the breeze,
The ghost of other foes-though both
Would find us puny enemies,
Second growth and second growth.

i: He thinks of the Chinese snake who is
The beginning and the end.

If you or I should die
That day desire would not renew
Itself in any bed.
The old snake of the world, eternity,
That holds his tail in his mouth,
Would spit it out
And ease off through the grass
Like a piece of music
To we don't know where.

Then it would be for the living
To beat the grass and bring him back.
But would he set tamely
Sucking his tail again
In that absence?

ii. He marvels at the persistence of passion

Like black duennas the hours sit
And read our lips and watch our thighs.
The years are pederasts: they wait
For boys and will not meet my eyes.

And children are cool astronomers
Who scan us like old galaxies
And calculate how many years
Before we'll turn to gas or freeze.

And yet sometimes I have to shave
And brush my teeth at dawn to keep
My healthy middle aged alive
Hands off you where you lie asleep.

iii. Sometimes he contemplates adultery

I had no insanity to excuse this,
But for a week my heart ran with another love,
Imagined another house, down to its books and bed.
My miserable fluttered heart, you understand, chose this.
Now I am led home-cold, grave,
Contractual as a dog by my scurrilous head.

iv. His hands, on a trip to Wisconsin

It is night. I am a thousand miles from home,
My hands lie awake and are aware of themselves.
One on my noisy chest, the other, the right one,
A matter of several pounds, oppressing my forehead.
It is a week since it fluted the air goodbye.
I think of the path in space this thing has made,
Veering and halting; of shapes hands make
Washing a car, or in the uses of music.

Two shapes it has traced honor this right hand:
The curve that a plane rides over
As it leaves or takes a deck on the scalloped sea;
Handily, handily then this two pound creature
Felt the wired air, let the monsters kiss.
The shapes that it graphed were fairer
Than the hair of the clouds that watched
Or the sea's own scalloped hair.

And he and his gauche fellow, moving symmetrically,
Have described one body so well
They could dress that shape in air
As they long to do now though they lie
Laced with hunks of flesh on my belly-
Ahead of them some years of roving
Before the white landscape of age checks them,
Your body's disaster, sure to be traced there,
Even so slight a change in a dear shape
Halting them, baffled, lascivious suddenly,
Or folded cold, or feeling your hands folded cold.

v: Lines from his guest book

Shelley's houses and walks were always a clutter of women,
And god knows what further arrangements he kept in his mind.
Drole de menage, Rimbaud said of himself and Verlaine,
As if there were any other kind.
In Yeats' tower, in all that fakery of ghosts,
Some solid women came and slept as Mrs. Yeats' guests.
We are most our strange selves when we are hosts.

Here those who have loved or befriended me come to a proof:
They must lodge in my head and in company under one roof.
Keeping house is the instinct of love; it is always a little ridiculous.
Yet it is with no light welcome we welcome the friends of the house.

i: The Poet as Troublemaker

She likes to split an apple down the middle
And with her hands behind her ask them, which?
The other children fall in with the riddle
But he says, both hands! Both hands, you sly old bitch!

ii. Iambic Feet Considered as Honorable Scars

You see these little scars? That's where my wife
-the principle of order everywhere-
Has grazed me, shooting at the sloppy bear
That lurches from the urinals of life.
He is the principle of god knows what;
He wants things to be shapeless and all hair.
Only a fool would want to fight him fair,
Only a woman would think he could be shot.

"Five Accounts of a Monogamous Man" and "About Poetry" reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright © 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.

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