“Look up. And tell me what you see.”
“I see two chairs on a hillside.
What are they doing there?”
“Through good days and bad, two sat there
having a conversation. Flowers grew up around them,
vines twined around their chairs. They didn’t seem to care,
but moved the chairs higher or lower to adjust the view
of rushing streams and valleys, a town that they both knew.
Autumn approached, the hillside changing color,
and still they stayed, feeling the change within themselves.
Their talk was a thread unspooling, leading them where it would.
Sometimes one lost the thread, her mind for a moment
blank, and then she’d find herself, again pick up the thread.
With the first chill wind, their bare hands touched,
as if to reassure. They braced themselves, pulling their coats
closer, as snow fell through the air, whitening all they said.”
“And so they stayed all winter?”
“They did. Shivering and skeletal, they preferred frost
to interruption. They wintered out the worst with words
until their rags thawed out. Spring came again.
Green shoots, some from the heart, sprang up.
They felt themselves anew. Each had a story to tell.
The first recalled an island where summer lasted year
to year. South, she flew south, pulled by a dream
of herself unlike the northern dream she knew.
Like the first face one sees on waking, she loved that place.
One year she lost its whereabouts, the next, that face,
and suddenly she found herself alone and ancient
on a hillside looking down. The view inspired a poem.
The second came up and found her there, white pages
blowing down the hillside. Each was surprised
to find a compatriot. That’s how it all began.”
“And the second?”
“The second is harder to speak of.
She moved in extremes of ice and fire,
swinging from hate to love. Her passion
took her up the hillside, away from the town.
Once there, she would have liked to stay,
climbing higher than mid-range. I can’t say
more than that. That’s all that I can say.”
“Don’t then. You’ve said enough.”
“Have I? I’ve only told part of it.
You’ve heard how poets stand in fields and pray
for lightning on the bluest day? They never had.
They weren’t that crazy. And yet, one day it struck
between them, the ground parting for an instant,
then closing up, taking the first somewhere dark.
The second wasn’t surprised, and yet she was.
She sat there grieving, stunned. As some will talk
to a grave, she talked to the chair’s vacancy,
believing she was heard—”
“Perhaps she was.”
“—Then she came down to where we’re standing.
She stood where I stand now. Stars wheeled
around her, the night sky streamed and blurred,
the scene seen as if through tears. Then all was quiet,
the sky as fixed and deep and measureless as before.
Each night I stand here looking up. The chairs are proof
of what I’ve told you. Can you see them up there?
Two empty chairs no element can change, as fixed
in their relation as any starry constellation—”
“As we are?”
“No, as we will be someday. We aren’t complete
in what we are yet. We’re in the middle of a story
we’ll tell twice over, each in our own slant way.
We’ve written half the pages, but half remain.
To be done, if at all, out of love—”
“How do you know all this?
Who told you?”
“I was one of the two.”