The Collected Poems  

Amy Clampit

Headless in East Berlin, no goddess
but a named mere girl (Ornithe, "Little Bird")
out of the rubble, six centuries underneath

the plinth of what we quaintly call

Our Time, informs the foaming underside
of linden boulevards in bloom, sweet hide
laid open onto—sterile as an operating table,
past the closed incision of the Wall—

the treeless reach of Alexanderplatz,
paved counterpart of the interior flatland,
halfway across the globe, we'd left behind:
projection, factor, yield, the quantifiable

latitude; malls, runways, blacktop; tressed
cornsilk and alfalfa, drawn milk of the humdrum
nurture there were those of us who ran away from
toward another, earlier, bonier

one, another middle of the earth, yearned-
for stepmotherland of Hölderlin and Goethe:
sunlight and grief, the cypress and the
crucifix, the vivid poverty

of terraced slopes, of bread, wine, olives,
fig and pomegranate shade we stumbled into,
strolling the sad northern drizzle, in
the uprooted Turks' quasi-bazaar,

as here, among uprooted artifacts, we've come
upon this shape's just-lifted pleats, her
chitoned stillness the cold chrism of a time
that saw—or so to us it seems—

with unexampled clarity to the black core
of what we are, of everything we were to be,
have since become. Who stands there headless.
Barbar, she would have called us all.

[Note: the word "barbarian" derives from the ancient Greek; it indicates one who is uncivilized because he cannot speak the language of the civilized, in this case Greek; it denoted literally one who makes the sounds "bar, bar, bar", which is what foreign languages sounded like to the Greeks. – EH]

Down East people, not being botanists,
call it "that pink-and-blue flower
you find along the shore." Wildflower
guides, their minds elsewhere, mumble
"sea lungwort or oysterleaf" as a label
for these recumbent roundels, foliage
blued to a driftwood patina
growing outward, sometimes to the
size of a cathedral window,
stemrib grisaille edge-tasseled
with opening goblets, with bugles
in miniature, mauve through cerulian,
toggled into a seawall scree,
these tuffets of skyweed
neighbored by a climbing tideline,
by the holdfasts, the gargantuan lariats
of kelp, of landfall of seaweed:

Mertensia, the learned Latin
handle, proving the uses of taxonomy,
shifts everything abruptly inland,
childhoodward, to what we called then
(though not properly) bluebells:
spring-bottomland glades standing upright,
their lake-evoking sky color
a trapdoor, a window letting in distances
all the way to the ocean—
reaching out, nolens volens,
as one day everything breathing
will reach out, with just such
bells on its fingers, to touch
without yet quite having seen
the unlikelihood, the ramifying
happenstance, the mirroring
marryings of all likeness.

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    Excerpted from Collected Poems by Amy Clampit. Copyright © 2002 by Amy Clampit. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.