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Listening to the Candle: Excerpt

Peter Dale Scott
From:   Murmur of the Stars: Selected Shorter Poems. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1994, 130; published in U.S. as Crossing Borders: Selected Shorter Poems. New York: New Directions, 1994, 85-89.


For Cassie

Rush home for dinner
        between a poetry reading
     and a public lecture on peace

and since Maylie
        is once again absent
     on one of her five-day sesshins                                                 sittings

I expect the kitchen to be deserted
        but no! Cassie fresh
     from her twenty-fifth birthday party

is there and sees right off
        a moment to pamper
     fixes some food while I relax

even though it may be
        we shall always be awkward
     there being more forethought

to the strangest arranged marriage
        than when father and daughter
     first look on each other

nothing those first years
        of whirlwind diplomat parties
     or canoe trips in the Laurentians

prepared us newlyweds for
        (the French pregnancy movie
     had counseled an energetic life)

a morning hike up a waterfall
        in the middle of the night
     a silent tight-lipped drive

and then suddenly Cassie
        five weeks premature
     no more than a 4.5 pound

baby koala
        in the palm of the nurse's hand
     How many shocks in life

can there be like that one?
        never before had I felt
     responsibility for such pain

as your misery and rage
        emerging from the ether
     of surgery at six weeks

the months of colic
        you could only be pacified
     by long drives on country washboard

or the nurserybook moment
        behind the hill
     just this side of the Iron Curtain

geese crossing the cobblestones
        a screech of brakes
     and you still smaller than your bear

ended up at the bottom
        of a pile of cribclothes
     on the Peugeot backseat floor

pains I would like to blame
        for your subsequent anger
     and not those later years

of crisis meetings books
        that always brought me home
     at dinner time too late

to pass through the small door
        of your wonderland
     to be a good father

I tried hard to live
        a life without scandal
     in the end that too failed

along with that future
        I wasted your childhood on
     but tonight you make no issue of it

tonight some instinct remembers
        the long vigil in Warsaw
     the Vistula frozen and so

no water heat electricity
        by candlelight we clutched you
     through your hot terrifying fever

to the dull booms
        as they dynamited the ice
     or when our Peugeot skidded

in the Silesian snowstorm
        stopped only by the kilometer stone
     its back wheels hanging in space

Maylie's sure hand scooping
        you without hesitation
     instantly out of the back seat

the same involuntary way
        Maylie's flesh became your milk
     her hair straightened

and across her sweet breathing hara belly
        there appeared stretchmarks
     Once you had been born

we could no longer as before
        want only for ourselves
     just as now we must unlearn

that intense involvement
        which served to make us more sane
     than our earlier freedom

nothing like that unique
        response to my first glimpse
     of your half-alien redness

of being despite illusions
        of identity and choice
     no more than the outer flesh

of some buried seed
        whose great singlemindedness
     had for a brief generation

used us and our desire
        as it might yours
     and if this has not

informed me with the skill
        to put easily into words
     I love you

nevertheless I feel the gift
        of this added force
     the more gratifying

because unneedy breath
        delicate as the sparrow's
     subtle as the earthworm trail

call me cassie or cassie's dream
        but hold me close
the style
     of language is indirect

sign for a sign
sound for another sound

Peter Dale Scott's works copyright © to the author.

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