We Saw No Caribou
except on metal signs, the cartooned
antlers ungainly, black against yellow.
Were we not still enough when the heart of day
had dissolved and the animals coolly
made their way into the blue dusk?
We drank their water, ruddled from the rocks,
and shared their air, as clean as asence.
We would have photographed them, of course,
along with the Montmorency Falls, the Île
d’Orleans, notched on memory’s belt, accreted.
And if we had beheld caribou, moose—or cougar!—
would the sight have blessed us
like the Shroud of Turin
or simply been allied with one moment,
contained in time by the word vacation?
In a Bierstadt painting, they’d be larger
than the Indians, smaller than the sky, part
of the grandeur. Disney would make them
friendly, laughable and safe. In a zoo
we’d say forlorn, circumscribed by fake
rocks and pools. In our photographs
a sheared fur of trees wraps the hills.
Below us the lakes stretch and curl.
Around our bodies an altitude, around
our heads a nimbus. And in the center,
freed of their anchor in God, our eyes
look back at our immanent selves.
Sajé has all the equanimity that Karen Volkman (discussed in an earlier post) seems to lack; there is no sense of brooding catastrophe here, only a persistent pleasure in the world and in words, their revelations and their mysteries:
I Want but Can’t Remember
the name of that wax inside a sperm whale
that’s used to fix perfume; it sounds like amber,
amber, amber, which delivers through turbid fog
the Baltic Sea, fossils with zeros,
the ring my mother wears,
colored like a cat’s iris flecked with black,
along with the summer she bought it
in Austria the year I turned seven
when my hair was still dark and thick.
I was photographed next to the car,
the Alps in the background.
At that mountain pass gift shop,
the first time I remember
coveting something—an amber necklace—
that I didn’t ask for or even admire out loud
as if I understood it can be fine
to want something and not get it,
that wanting is a secret hymn, a way
to pass the hour shielded from the glaring sun
and tortuous mountain roads,
that you become part of the wanting
like a wasp caught in resin,
buried in sand and waiting to be found.
“Wanting is a secret hymn”—one of many lines in this book that I wish I had written!