THE LIGHT ECHO
The wind was high in the tall palm tree, its branches
swaying through the streetlamp’s arc of light, storm-tossed,
casting lengths of shadow, a splintered light, far into
the dark that night. They fell through our sash window.
I slept, and woke, and slept again, a cold front
closing in, the sound of wind now channelled by the hills,
now dragging rain into those hills, on out to sea,
while you worked on, past 2 a.m., in the winter room.
And in that dream from which we wake once
or twice in a lifetime, to fall into a further dream,
it was there again, a room was there, each object
stilled where it was left, draped by its shadow self.
And a face was there – but as if it always had been
there, waiting just beyond the bed where I lay woken,
the light behind it, the lamp left burning, its mellow
glow, winter aureole, the colour of a ripened pear.
It made no sound, that face so near, so far
above me, watching from that verge of light
that set an edge of shadow to its eyes, its smile.
It made no move to go, that one night out of many,
its vigil lasting even while the storm moved on, moved
out to sea, the dark resumed. But it was like the wave
of light swept out into the dust that clouds a star,
and travelling months, years later, continuing in the star-debris
more distant still, flames into that ragged mantle,
corona of lit dust, astronomers call a light echo.
I saw it in your eyes one night as you stood there
watching, your work completed, pausing at our bed’s edge,
the light on which I verged no trick of light, a storm’s
palm-broken light. I saw it for a moment, this
which men crave in some way that they can hardly say
or hardly dare to say:
– That even one like me
could be entered into that company; that I too, through you,
in the most secret hour of night, in a city now years off,
could be admitted into the aureole of that one word
like a lamp – to sleep again, beloved, to wake,
and then to live on only, our lives so soon to separate,
in the echo of that light, the dust of that one moment
through which the light still travels, to reach me here
in my own vigil, another storm, another dark, tonight.
(Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, 19/7/2001)