Theodore Roethke

The Long Alley

A river glides out of the grass. A river or a serpent.
A fish floats belly upward,
Sliding through the white current,
Slowly turning,

The dark flows on itself. A dead mouth sings under an old tree.
The ear hears only in low places.
Remember an old sound.

This slag runs slow. What bleeds when metal breaks?
Flesh, you offend this metal. How long need the bones mourn?
Are those horns on top of the hill? Yesterday has a long look.

Loo, loo, said the sulphurous water,
There's no fith on a plateau of cinders.
This smoke's from the glory of God.

    Can you name it? I can't name it.
    Let's not hurry. The dead don't hurry.
    Who else breathes here? What does the grave say?
    My gates are all caves.

The fiend's far away. Lord, what do you require?
    The soul resides in the horse barn.
Believe me, there's no one else, kitten-limp sister.
    Kiss the trough, swine-on-Friday.
Come to me, milk-nose. I need a loan of the quick.
    There's no joy in soft bones.
For whom were you made, sweetness I cannot touch?
    Look what the larks do.
Luminous one, shall we meet on the bosom of God?
    Return the gaze of the pond.

Stay close. Must I kill something else?
Can feathers eat me? There's no clue in the silt.
This wind gives me scales. Have mercy, gristle.
It's my last waltz with an old itch.

    A waiting ghost warms up the dead
    Until they creak their knees:
    So up and away and what do we do
    But barley-break and squeeze.

    Tricksey comes and tricksey goes
    Bold in fear therefore;
    The hay hops in the horse's mouth,
    The chin jumps to the nose.

    Rich me cherries a fondling's kiss,
    The summer bumps of ha:
    Hand me a feather, I'll fan you warm,
    I'm happy with my paws.

Gilliflower ha,
Gilliflower ho,
My love's locked in
The old silo.

She cries to the hen,
She waves to the goose,
But they don't come
To let her loose.

    If we detach
    The head of a match
    What do we do
    To the cat's wish?
    Do we rout the fish?
    Will the goat's mouth
    Have the last laugh?

That was a close knock. See what the will wants.
This air could flesh a dead stick. Sweet Jesus, make me sweat.
Are the flowers here? The birds are.
Shall I call the flowers?

    Come littlest, come tenderest,
    Come whispering over the small waters,
    Reach me rose, sweet one, still mosit in the loam,
    Come, come out of the shade, the cool ways,
    The long alleys of string and stem;
    Bend down, small breathers, creepers and winders;
    Lean from the tiers and benches,
    Cyclamen dripping and lilies.
    What fish-ways you have, littlest flowers,
    Swaying over the walks, in the watery air,
    Drowsing in soft light, petals pulsing.

Light airs! Light airs! A piece of angels!
The leaves, the leaves become me!
The tendrils have me!

Bricks flake before my face. Master of water, that's trees away.
Reach me a peach, fondling, the hills are there.
Nuts are money: wherefore and what else?
Send down a rush of air, O torrential,
Make the sea flash in the dust.

Call off the dogs, my paws are gone.
This wind brings many fish;
The lakes will be happy:
Give me my hands:
I'll take the fire.