God it’s so hot on the deck where we sit in the two chairs I found on the street, you in your new slip and me in my shorts and t-shirt and hat. The sun sears everything, paint is stripped and bleached and the Coleman cooler that R put under the table in 2017 has lost its blue skin. Two tables finally collapsed this spring, and the wood of the deck is so thin I could put my bare foot through the railing. We sit baking in the two new chairs which are the only things that feel as if they are vital, aside from ourselves. The two chairs, castoffs from some wealthy household, with the bright blue cushions which will themselves I know become bleached in time. Behind you a robin feeds its chick, whose little head peeks out of the nest and when it has eaten waits patiently for the father to return. I think briefly that we should put the chairs together, facing the same direction, since that is the way we sit most comfortably outside, but it is nice too to sit across from you and see you with your crossed legs and your golden hair and your tattoo on your left foot. I want to reach you to touch you but you are too far. On the old TV aerial there is another bird, perhaps the baby robin’s mother or perhaps another species entirely, and it is keeping watch, but when I point to it you say the sky is too bright for you to see. Oh to sit out on the deck and be beaten down by the light. Oh to be out there with you as the sun’s rays punch us to nothing.
I have been hungry for the language of Chaucer. Some interior gnawing, growing every day in strength. Perhaps I always desire Chaucer at this time of year—in May, when the leaves become thick and the air is redolent with flowers, which recalls Chaucer’s dreamers peacefully drifting off in the surprising new heat of spring. I have just read—I am unsure if for the first time—Borges’s “Translators of the Arabian Nights.” In that essay he praises the Burton translation, which he notes others find so successful because “Chaucer’s English” is so close to the thirteenth century Arabic original (Borges clarifies that he also sees, in the translation, the influence of Urquhart’s Rabelais). But it is the words themselves—Chaucer’s words—which I long for, now with an additional desire: that their vocabularly might work some deep interior change in me, perhaps something like the translation from winter to spring works on trees. So that later commentators will feel obligated to note that it is Chaucer’s English that I speak.
For the Pennance that Man Taketh of Himselfe Was Not Shewid Me—
To Calais, I thought, to Calais
where I will eat chicken fricaseed
So much in France that if I died
my effects to the king and no one else—
From the bedroom to the kitchen
to the office and up stairs and down
And the doorframe of the bathroom
and in the tall ship from Dover…
Oh how little I wanted to be there!
Dover, Calais, a chicken waiting
Fricaseed in the little parlour
facing the king’s portrait, the king
With his chickens, his tall men
with chicken legs, they call this
Calais, Calais, Calais, this feeling,
these men, this steaming dinner
If only I could turn this ship around
scorn this scowling shore, forget Calais
Forget this feeling, if I could bow
before some one other than the king
The king and myself and his portrait—