The Magic Circle
Early this morning I glanced out the window
and saw her underneath the maple tree.
She was as pale as that white gown of hers.
Hard to believe it's been a year already.
I waved. She turned away, paused for a moment,
then walked into the mist that marked the border
between my backyard and what lay beyond.
Proserpine, I called, but she was gone.
I am convinced that this was Proserpine
and not, as Mrs. Grandison maintains,
some nut escaped from the state hospital.
All Hallow E'en approaches. Skeletons
hang from the trees along my street and ghosts,
emboldened, haunt the front yards in broad
The swallows sleep beneath the river ice.
The salamanders whisper in the fire.
Hermes Trismestigus' new work is open
at one of its obscurer passages,
of which there are intolerably many.
I take a break to watch the local news.
Toward midnight, I collect my charts and go
to make my nightly survey of the heavens.
Mercifully they're still there. One of the
developments I've witnessed in my time
has been astrology's decline from science
to fortune telling of the basest sort,
its long eclipse by disciplines that measure
not meaning, now, but distance, size and mass ...
As if mere matter mattered in itself.
Bears wake from their long hibernation, now,
hirsute initiates with tales to tell
to those with ears to listen. Proserpine
returns as well, and Christ. And may not I?
The budding trees and the returning birds
figure the transmigration of the soul
so beautifully I wish that I could die
and see the world again through infant eyes.
I intimate these things to Ed, my mailman,
who nods politely. Ed is not about
to jeopardize his Christmas tip (last year
an old tin can transmuted into gold)
regardless how much of a character
he and the other villagers may think me.
Little did I know when I concocted
my potion that, although one may stop time,
it is impossible to turn it back.
Youth, they say, is wasted on the young.
Perhaps I'll have a tee-shirt made that reads,
Eternal life is wasted on the old.
And yet the world is no less beautiful.
Toward evening dew collects upon the lawn,
rising again as fireflies. Above
the white New England church a flock of swallows
copies a Greek text out in Arabic,
and in the maple trees a light breeze stirs,
sounding for all the world like water falling
distantly off the edges of the world.
2002; originally printed in The Hudson Review.
Reprinted by permission of the author.