MEASURE BY MEASURE
By Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Alone in Woody Creek, Colorado,
I fell asleep reading “Measure for Measure,”
Right at the part where the Duke delivers
His Old Testament decision of haste
Paying for haste, and leisure answering
Leisure, like quitting like, and (wait for it)
Measure for measure. I saw it performed
Once, in Stratford; I was maybe twenty.
I only remembered the “measure still
For measure” part, until now. It stuck
With me. But the rest of it was wiped clean
From my memory, all of Stratford, too.
Still, the way the actor leaned on that half
Line, “measure still for measure,” as though it
Were the measure of his self, measure still
For measure, all these years, I remembered
Being the heart of the play, its great gist;
But I forgot it was a death sentence.
Whether Angelo deserved such a fate,
Or Isabella’s ability to
Rise above the mire doesn’t matter:
Death, not beauty, woke me.
My neck aches.
All of Shakespeare feels like lead on my chest,
Not for death, let’s face it, death awaits us,
Usually with less prescient language,
But death measures us with a noun’s contempt
For our imagination, being death
But not dying, making do, like when I
Turn from the Bard, look outside and behold
A herd of a hundred elk, surviving
The snow as they know how––being elk.
An hour ago they were in the hills,
But now they graze a mere five feet away,
Their world othered by these austere windows;
The massive seven-pointer, chin held high
To prevent his thick neck from crashing down,
Hoofs the snow and starts toward me, but then turns
To compass the valley between his horns.
A PRIVATE SINGULARITY
By John Koethe
I used to like being young, and I still do,
Because I think I still am. There are physical
Objections to that thought, and yet what
Fascinates me now is how obsessed I was at thirty-five
With feeling older than I was: it seemed so smart
And worldly, so fastidiously knowing to dwell so much
On time — on what it gives, what it destroys, on how it feels.
And now it’s here and doesn’t feel like anything at all:
A little warm perhaps, a little cool, but mostly waiting on my
Life to fill it up, and meanwhile living in the light and listening
To the music floating through my living room each night.
It’s something you can only recognize in retrospect, long after
Everything that used to fill those years has disappeared
And they’ve become regrets and images, leaving you alone
In a perpetual present, in a nondescript small room where it began.
You find it in yourself: the ways that led inexorably from
Home to here are simply stories now, leading nowhere anymore;
The wilderness they led through is the space behind a door
Through which a sentence flows, following a map in the heart.
Along the way the self that you were born with turns into
The self that you created, but they come together at the end,
United in the memory where time began: the tinkling of a bell
On a garden gate in Combray, or the clang of a driven nail
In a Los Angeles backyard, or a pure, angelic clang in Nova Scotia —
Whatever age restores. It isn’t the generalizations that I loved
At thirty-five that move me now, but particular moments
When my life comes into focus, and the feeling of the years
Between them comes alive. Time stops, and then resumes its story,
Like a train to Balbec or a steamer to Brazil. We moved to San Diego,
Then I headed east, then settled in the middle of the country
Where I’ve waited now for almost forty years, going through the
Motions of the moments as they pass from now to nothing,
Reading by their light. I don’t know why I’m reading them again —
Elizabeth Bishop, Proust. The stories you remember feel like mirrors,
And rereading them like leafing through your life at a certain age,
As though the years were pages. I keep living in the light
Under the door, waiting on those vague sensations floating in
And out of consciousness like odors, like the smell of sperm and lilacs.
In the afternoon I bicycle to a park that overlooks Lake Michigan,
Linger on a bench and read Contre Sainte-Beuve and Time Reborn,
A physics book that argues time is real. And that’s my life —
It isn’t much, and yet it hangs together: its obsessions dovetail
With each other, as the private world of my experience takes its place
Within a natural order that absorbs it, but for a while lets it live.
It feels like such a miracle, this life: it promises everything,
And even keeps its promise when you’ve grown too old to care.
It seems unremarkable at first, and then as time goes by it
Starts to seem unreal, a figment of the years inside a universe
That flows around them and dissolves them in the end,
But meanwhile lets you linger in a universe of one —
A village on a summer afternoon, a garden after dark,
A small backyard beneath a boring California sky.
I said I still felt young, and so I am, yet what that means
Eludes me. Maybe it’s the feeling of the presence
Of the past, or of its disappearance, or both of them at once —
A long estrangement and a private singularity, intact
Within a tinkling bell, an iron nail, a pure, angelic clang —
The echo of a clear, metallic sound from childhood,
Where time began: “Oh, beautiful sound, strike again!”
LETTER TO DICK FROM TIME
By Heather Altfeld
Dear Richard. How you wanted to be called dearest.
I couldn’t. There weren’t enough hours in the day then
to know the cathedral of your whimsy, nor the catacombs
of your desire. I will take you to the moors, you said
the first time, spooning against the small of my back,
hard into your sadness. So many moors. Petrolia,
phone booth in the rain, car slipshod in the mud,
dialing the rotary for rescue. What you remembered
was hiking in the sand to the lighthouse, leaning me
against its old rail, speaking of Arabia, Lawrence
in the dunes. Everything I have done since
was in your image. The men I loved waver
beneath the shadows of you, seduced by Durrell,
the orange blossoms, white stone of Alexandria. The Arab
of spitting. Your lips, heart-shaped and full like a girl’s,
drawing out my breasts. How could you
do this to me? The phone crackles, gin in your fist, bitters
swung into the long planks of your porch. The butterflies
beat their wings in Japan and there are no surprises here.
chaos theory, darling, you slur into the cord, a hundred
strums singing the Pleiades, my heart warming like pewter
to your words. I will drink to you drinking to me
tonight as the apple orchards glow pink
beneath the clouds and the wheat stalks bend
in our names. Oh, my love. I am just now approaching
who you wanted me to be then. You are right,
dear Dick, this is the worst time of day, when I pull the
of a match along the stove grate, bursting the small flicker of
You’d slide past me then to reach the napkins, a dinner
the memory of your hand on my hip as you moved
alongside. Tonight I set
the table for you, the full moon of your dinner plate
in the evening light. Call me, too, when the night tries to
past the lump in its throat. Ask me what matters, and I will
the phone trembling hard against the little knock of our