David Rigsbee


The clouds were in a frieze that day,
an arabesque’s curls laced like a finger-church
but unable to open, sandwiched by slabs.
Like others, I waited to hear what word
there might be to divide up
a future, not the headlong, wild hair flying
as in the days I knew you first,
but measured and yet not less joyous
for the measuring.  Milton said we are
creatures who “sigh to be renewed.”
You later told how the X crossed your heart
and the surgeon described the lifting away.
Was the heart then lighter?  I wanted to ask,
but something overcame my impulse,
something like the moment you knew
what was dead in you was the very thing
he most had to hold as precious. 


One day in Ann Arbor, Brodsky showed me
the letter Milosz wrote him when he landed
in America.  He had written it in the Russian
that, by the by, landed him in the Beulah land 
of California, but I don’t remember any of it 
beyond the greeting and the summary translation 
(“he says he welcomes me to the U.S.”). 
Yet there was the sense of admittance
fenced by formality--the creamy stationery,
the formal, centered return address--
the only thing not in Cyrillic:  surely 
this noblesse oblige was irony to the exile.  
Why do I remember that letter today, 
now that they are both gone?
Why can’t I remember the content
of the three paragraphs, instead of
the superficial particulars and the précis
small enough to expand into a lone--
and in its loneliness, trite--sentence?  
Where did the letter go, whose own letter 
was a fostering spirit?  This was thirty 
years ago, but the rind of memory is still 
intact here in the chilly Northwest. 
As evening fixes to come on
the sky is still a part of afternoon,
though the ground is already gathering 
darkness to the gardens.  There is 
even a cloud that looks like a faint 
whale, flukes at a diagonal,
swimming overhead at a great clip
out of where the sunset dissolves the day
into its feeling, as if it meant to. 


It’s as if some middle were erased,
the mountaintops with their peaky drifts
down which slide wrinkles of ice
but no flanks and no base:  just air
pretending to be sky as if participating 
in that color, that all-leveling blue.
When my philosophy professor found himself
on a panel with the Dalai Lama
what he really wanted to do, he said
was to ask him to levitate
so that he could sweep his hand under
like a kid who has wised up,
debunking the magic, finding the wires.