Don’t take it personally, Gentle Readers. A good friend of mine refers to both her two large cats and her college students as the “little beasts.” It’s a term of endearment. Enjoy the poem.
Nightview from the Beanstalk, with Moon
Up here, night clouds move like an ocean breaking
against the beanstalk, rolling into charcoal
horizonless shore as if racing to discover new worlds,
ferocious and green. But there are no new worlds
left to discover. There is no green; only heavy midnight
blue indistinguishable from eternity. Without moonlight,
this foliage is primal, reaching out. Jack says,
Navigate by touch as salmon do, heaving themselves straight
upriver, up waterfalls, up to invisible sky. It is easy to see,
here in the dark, how explorers of old could
convince themselves of destiny, cousin to destination,
of a magnet star calling to the magnet in the breast.
Quest is kin to conquest. Scaling these leaves, helmed
ghosts cry out in seven romance languages, Devil
take the hindmost! and flail their way into the surf
of sinuous vines. Like them, I navigate by clutching.
The shadows between my fingers chime
in recognition. No new worlds. No, now
we colonize each other’s bodies, plant flags
between each other’s eyes. Look at Jack. Unlike most
men, who brag of the last woman laid, he brags
of the last giant killed, lectures long into evening
how the storytellers got it wrong: he never chopped down
the beanstalk, he merely greased its leaves. Effective
enough. I stall his rehearsed glory, resume our dark climb.
Another hour, Jack calls back to me. Until the top? No,
until the moon. He laughs at the way it sounds, as if light
were a place one could climb to, or gloom were a path
to a door. The clouds roll in with a hush like high tide,
leaving their moisture to lick my face, muting my voice.
In the dark, every whisper is loud, every motion
endless. The tangled boughs bend and sway beneath me
like so much black lace. I pry my fingers open, pick
my way blindly upward, always upward, among vines
slicked by cloud, scrambled by breeze. Jack murmurs,
We could drown in all this wet air, these beans
the hue of stone weighing us down. I am glad I can’t see
the ground, justified in asking to climb here at night.
The last boundary, Jack says, lies above us,
in cumulus cliffs of lapis and glacial white
bigger than anybody’s fear of falling. Close your eyes.
What does verdancy mean now? What does height
signify? If beans tremble, but the night wraps
so close you cannot see them, do they fear?
Jack’s right about the beans. Their cool grey
leather strands hang like bits of bone: malleable
and waiting to be fleshed and shoved toward
birth. A terrifying change, that fall into chill
unknown, caught by too many dry hands, ferried into
this netherworld new life of pangs and urges,
blown into a crêche filled with straw and destiny–
that word again, whose syllables encompass end
together with beginning, doom with estimated
time of arrival. If I mapped this altitude, with its
webbed stems and stone lessons, if I charted these blue
fathoms where owls glide, curious as dolphins,
along the prow of this beanstalk, could I soon navigate
through cloudwracked straits to Jack, to a hidden country,
guided by owls as dolphins once were known to guide
ships past reefs, stars past the dark side of the moon?
The white tiger moon crouches, tensed, then lacerates
the clouds and peels them back to reveal a new
beanstalk: both compass rose for a map, and waterfall
of black marble illuminated by blossoms like perfumed
gloves, phosphorescent and casting their own light
on my face, on Jack’s, on village and valley below.
The beanstalk spills from this incalculable height, spills in
ribbons of black ink that pool and trickle into boundaries,
lakes and vales, mountains and rolling roads, the soft
spread of forest–all drawn to scale, all shining like velvet
under moonlight. Soft laughter trails up to us
from the satisfied magician and his dry milkcow, no more
than stick figures in the corner below, near thatched
cottages strangling among the beanstalk’s tangled roots.
Perspective lies. From a distance, waterfalls appear
to pour upward the way the eye climbs from bottom
to shadowy top in the Chinese painting of this night.
From where the magician stands, I am not following
but chasing Jack, tracing his path through a garden
of moonbrightened blooms, up one side of this scroll.
The tiger moon rolls down the hill of clouds, gathering
white, only her eyes still bronze and reflecting our ascent,
her whiskers hoarding starlight, her musty breath
foregoing Confucian Analects to whisper, “Catch him,
catch him,” in the cold breeze. Daylight women have
chased Jack on land, to dig for his gold and fawn
over his beans in the hollows of tawny dunes. I follow
without such haste. Like him, I am an entrepreneur
of thinner atmospheres. I lure him as altitude does,
sew silver behind the clouds, knowing I will reap it again
before dawn, before its white heat scorches our hands to
flinders, tempts us to turn back from this endurance
climb in a vertical jungle gone wild, whose malachite
webs, only dimly seen, stir me until I could weep
from unspent passion, from the feminine ascendant and
racing in pale light. Nightingale song fills the leaves, says Jack.
But I am the silent roaring gale of this night, and my
fireflies flicker and cicadas chirr like the finger cymbals of
a dancer whose limbs twine and untwine as this
beanstalk does around Jack, even in the slightest of winds.
Spilecki, Susan. “Nightview from the Beanstalk,” Sow’s Ear Poetry Review 8 (Fall 1998): 3.