Philip Metres





ca. 3000 BC

What is most ancient
is most translucent

news: last year's model
alien in marble,

suggested face—soft
blade of a nose aloft

and tilted skyward.
Mouthlessness. What words

would spill, if from stone
her own mouth were hewn?

At the ends of ends
where hands should spread—

furled wings, destined
never to open.




The old bilad has burned                     
                                                            into ballads,                                                  
Dear X. 
                              Even my ubi has disappeared.
I once believed I'd chronicle each wonder—

Amerigo to my soul. But what lands
have I
                    "uncovered"? What people plundered? 
Were they me or totally weird?

In this unrepeatable experiment,
who's the control group,
                                                            downing placebos
as if they could be healed? 
                                                            Dear X, we're meant          

to praise the splinter in our Achilles—
clockhand & needle—
                                          for each step it allows.
I've lost the thread again. Oh, yes. Dear X, 

there's no need for a careful map, just a sketch
if you want
                              never to find your way back.




Last night, apart, I dreamt I saw
A dream saw me apart. Night, last
Until I come together again.

Again, together, we come
To the rim of the lake, drink in
The drunken lake, the rim

And the watery version of our faces,
Faces unaverted in the water,
Ringed with naked trees reaching

Reaching trees naked of rings,
Down into clouds, and clouds
And clouds crowding down

And rooting into the blue beyond
The blue. Through this blurry third, I believe I see you.



"Stargazer" was inspired by [the oldest work at the Cleveland Museum of Art], an idol that dates from the 3rd millennium B.C. in modern-day Turkey. When we moved to Cleveland in August of 2001, we were lucky to live in the Friends Meeting House, just a twelve minute walk to the Cleveland Museum of Art. We walked there often, as my wife Amy was pregnant with our first child. Things got intense when Adele was born; she often had colic and needed to be held and walked in order to fall asleep. I remember many walks with her, sometimes in the bitter cold, and the museum was an oasis from the misery of early parenting. Somewhere inside the museum, still strapped to my chest, she'd fall asleep, and I'd walk the galleries, sleep-deprived, but transported by these works of art, like living dreams. I think of ekphrasis as a dialogue with other artists, a talking back that has always been part of my museum experience—the way a dream is only completed when one begins to tell it to someone else. "Stargazer" is a tight little poem—as if evoke the simplicity and beauty of this little idol. In it, I echo Thomas Merton's phrase, "that which is oldest is most new." But really, it's a poem that wonders about women's voices that have been lost to human history. One of my favorite moments of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is when Esther spends time with the mute Miss Norris, wondering just what she would say, if she could say anything.

The title of "In the Open Light of a Sudden Cognition" is taken from a passage in Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams: "When after passing a defile one has reached an eminence where the ways part and where the view opens out broadly in different directions, it is permissible to stop for a moment and to consider where one is to turn next. Something like this happens to us after we have mastered this first dream interpretation. We find ourselves in the open light of a sudden cognition." Funny how this quote echoes Frost's "The Road Not Taken," the great poem of midlife crisis.

"Letterra Incognita" began as a letter to my younger brother David and at some point became a sonnet for Marilyn Hacker, one of the great American poets on exile. "Bilad" is the Arabic word for land, but with a certain emphasis and in certain immigrant contexts means "our land," or "the Old Country."