Chard deNiord

The Book of Guests
May 27, 2022 deNiord Chard



“Who is coming up from the wilderness,
leaning on her beloved?”


Song of Songs 8, 5


They gamboled toward me on the plain—two lambs
so happy to see me they lay down at my feet and sang.
“Where is your mistress?” I asked. “Where is she?”


At which they gazed up at me and bleated,
“There, in the distance, Master. Don’t you see?”
I searched the plain until I saw her running
toward me through the grass that whispered
a riddle in its chorus of blades:
“So short no matter how long.”
Then you were there like a vision before me
and I sang “la terre nous aimait un peu je me souviens”
to a tune from the war.


Dumuzi and Inanna…


Boris and Olga


A train rumbled in the distance and its whistle pierced the air.


Maybe there were trains before the world
that we’re only hearing now.


And everything else on rails, wings, and wires.


You touched my forehead and said, “Remember!”
I smelled the lilacs in your skin, the roses
on your breath, the sea between your legs,
the pears inside your breasts.
“You’re all the animals plus one,” I said,
then kissed your neck, at which your lambs leaped up
and licked my face. “Where’s your mistress?” I asked again
to make them laugh.
Let’s go back to the start for fun.
Call me one and then another: eland, catamount, falcon…


How many do you remember?


More and more the more I remember.


Touch me again on the lips this time.

But then you’ll dream and forget.


But I remember when I dream.
Like what?


Like the time when time was hidden
and you were the beautiful spy who slept
with me in the steppe, then shaved my body
and sweetened it with myrrh,
which frightened the animals away for good.


And then?


And then I awoke and there you were.
You had survived my sleep to sleep with me again.
“Like a book at evening, beautiful but untrue.”


“Like a book on waking, beautiful and true.”
We needed the animals to see beyond ourselves.
To know no creature we might imagine
could ever be more beautiful or strange than the ones
that roam the Earth already.


Best to admit we’re fools for falling in love
each time we wake at the start of the world.

Should we think and love at the same time, my dear?

It is our test, I fear. But how’s this,
this thought that just came to me when I regarded you
just moments ago as you slept beside me: the speed
of light within a vacuum is the same no matter
what speed we travel as mere observers between here
and there, there and here?
Such genius, my dove, for which I love you even more
since love is infinite for adding more and more to its store
without ever diminishing. Now you.
Something I dreamed I said to you:
“Listen to the grouse keeping his beat on his log,
which is to say, refrain from going on and on
beyond the facts or that which is enough already.”
Perfect, but, alas, impossible.
No matter.
Let’s write these things down before we forget,
which is also impossible but nonetheless what?
The edicts that remain without their lists
that fade in the dust of each last age.


What will you write then in the Book of Guests?
What I wrote last night in the meadow’s inn:
“The grass on which we slept grew over us
like a quilt and comforted us. Thank you.
We’d love to return next fall in late September
and then again in April the year after that,
and so on forever.” Now you do better —a word
or two on my back will do with an applicator,
a blue tattoo that bleeds each time I read
your words in the river’s mirror.
Bite on this stick, my love, for it will hurt a bit.
“Behold the trout that leaps and jokes.
‘Behold the music in the valleys and hills.’
Behold our deaths from which we rose
again and again to sing the same old song
that begins in silence and goes from there.”
Enough, my gazelle.
Now kiss the lambs and hold them close.
Our blood and ink have mixed together
and flow as one like the oldest river.


Chard deNiord is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently In My Unknowing (University of Pittsburgh Press 2020) and Interstate (U. of Pittsburgh, 2015). He is also the author of two books of interviews with eminent American poets titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs, Conversations and Reflections on 20th Century Poetry (Marick Press, 2011) and I Would Lie To You If I Could  (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). He co-founded the New England College MFA program in 2001 and the Ruth Stone Foundation in 2011. He served as poet laureate of Vermont from 2015 to 2019 and taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-two years at Providence College, where is now a Professor Emeritus. He lives in Westminster West, Vt. with his wife, the painter, Liz Hawkes deNiord.