Death took my father.
The same year (I was twelve)
Thanási's mother taught me
Heaven and hell.
None of my army buddies
Called me by name
Just 'Styles' or 'Fashion Plate'.
One friend I had, my body,
And, evenings at the gym
Contending with another,
Used it to isolate
Myself from him.
The doctor saved my knee.
You came to the clinic
Bringing War and Peace,
Better than any movie.
Why are you smiling?
I fought fair, I fought well,
Not hurting my opponent,
To win this black belt.
Why are you silent?
I've brought you a white cheese
From my island, and the sea's
Voice in a shell.
The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let our eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak's great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.
Excerpted from Selected Poems by James Merrill. Copyright © 1964 by James Merrill. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.