Campbell McGrath

TO HÉCTOR VIEL TEMPERLEY
June 9, 2015 McGrath Campbell

To Héctor Viel Temperley

(1982)

 

I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy
though I aspire to arrive like a wave

eternally
in progression,

ascent and diminution
as radio transmissions bound for the stars.

My neighbor is a broken man washing his car
again and again in morning sun,

what good is faith without shadow, moonlight

on the dunes,
clouds like ancient murals?

I aspire to rise.
I aspire to rise and fall.

•   •   •

                       I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy
digging sand from a dune until my palms bleed,

until the hammer plants
the heel of the hand

with its harsh, romantic kiss.

Because the life of the body bewilders me
no longer, recalling the sweetness
of dates

and rose-apricot jelly,
bitterness
of a radish

scraped against the teeth,

certain the world matters—and yet:

if we had wings would we suffer,
if we had gills?

Children riding imaginary seahorses,
rays and sharks, an ocean of satiation—

my voice does not contain such silk,

listening to the tide’s condolence
I hear always the countermelody

at each arrival,
each farewell.

Inexhaustible, the suitcases we will need
to pack away the sorrows yet to come.

•   •   •

                     I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy,
proposing faith in a sentence

marching across the page,

simple sentences marching
across the wilderness of the page,

one,
and then—
another.

Beautiful sentences, beautiful sentences!

To which, like cities
in the path of the great Khan’s army,
we throw open our gates

lest the obliteration of Urgench
be our portion.

•   •   •

                       I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy,
entirely at peace watching a dog cross the drawbridge

like an ambassador from another planet,
sailboats festooned with signal flags, pennants

dripping salt and devotion.

To the poets of the future
I make but one request on your behalf:

don’t just sing it like you mean it.
Mean it.

Then sing it.

Campbell McGrath is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems, and XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. His work has appeared in scores of literary journals and anthologies, as well as the New Yorker, Atlantic Magazine, Harper’s and the New York Times. McGrath’s writing has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in American letters, including a Guggenheim Fellowship,Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, a United States Artists Fellowship, and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award.” He lives with his wife in Miami Beach, and teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University.