FOR VALERIE, ON HER BIRTHDAY
Leaves from the ancient forest gleam
in the meadow brook, and dip, and pass.
Six maidens dance on the level green,
a seventh toys with an hourglass,
letting fine hours sink away,
turning to sift them back again.
An idle prince, with a cembalo,
sings to the golden afternoon.
Two silver knights, met in a wood,
tilt at each other, clash and bow.
Upon a field semé of birds
Tom Bread-and-Cheese sleeps by his plough.
But now a deadly stillness comes
upon the brook, upon the green,
upon the seven dancing maids,
the dented knights are dulled to stone.
The hours in the hourglass
are stilled to fine fear, and the wood
to empty burning. Tom the hind
walks in his sleep in pools of blood.
The page we've reached is grey with pain.
Some will not hear, some run away,
some go to write books of their own,
some few, as the tale grows cruel, sing Hey
but we who have no other book
spell out the gloomy, blazing text,
page by slow page, wild year by year,
our hope refined to what comes next,
and yet attentive to each child
who says he's looked ahead and seen
how the tale will go, or spied
a silver page two pages on,
for, as the themes knit and unfold,
somewhere far on, where all is changed,
beyond all twists of grief and fear,
we look to glimpse that land again:
the brook descends in music through
the meadows of that figured land,
nine maidens from the ageless wood
move in their circles, hand in hand.
Two noble figures, counterchanged,
fence with swift passion, pause and bow.
All in a field impaled with sun
the Prince of Cheese snores by his plough.
Watching bright hours file away,
turning to sift them back again,
the Prince of Bread, with a cembalo
hums to the golden afternoon.