Karl Kirchwey

To a High Aircraft | Palazzo Maldura
February 23, 2017 Kirchwey Karl

To a High Aircraft

               (after William Cullen Bryant)



While now by slow degrees

the heat and light of a long summer day

decline, the west become a burning gallery

out of the evening news,


purposefully it climbs

past church tower, widow’s walk and finial,

past haggard crowns of trees, at an angle

so steep the vision seems


a far heroic thing,

tilting at heaven up the azure dome,

tangent to every memory of home,

vector of vanishing,


pale cursor, bead of ice

burnished by the late sun five miles high, where

it is unzippering the stratosphere

in a rumor of silence,


breasting the absolute gulf,

riding an arc of crumbling contrail as,

fading in the wake of its own progress,

does the aspiring self,


safe from the fanatic glance

that hates its brightness and would bring it to

the desert landscape of a failed state now

jeweled with scorched remains:


unslowed by any doubt,

ardent, guided by an Almagest

hour by hour, so night need bring no rest

during all the voyage out,


never less than alone,

until at last, by some isthmus or bay

where countless shore birds watch incuriously,

it touches earth again.




Palazzo Maldura


The palazzo library was a retrofit,

and as usual I was bookworming

through the metal stacks that morning,

the photocopier in the corner on its time out


where the frescoes had started to spall,

nymphs and satyrs scuffed by human traffic

as they danced to a sensual music.

But I ignored their pipe and timbrel,


intent on some offprint or quarto.

In the beginning you do not know yourself,

and then there follow years of

knowing only what you do not know,


and the hope (though you cannot presume)

that something of all you come upon

might find in you a local habitation.

I rounded a corner into the next room


and moved aside to let him pass,

another coming toward me

intent as I was, anxiety

and goodwill constant rivals in his face


through the long moment it took

to recognize him in the mirrored wall—

for there was no next room at all,

and I had met myself coming back.

Karl Kirchwey is the author of seven books of poems. His eighth, Good Apothecary, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2025. Sections of his ongoing long poem Mutabor have appeared in journals since 2011. He teaches in the MFA programs in Creative Writing and in Literary Translation at Boston University.