Beauty’s Voice

by Diane Wakoski

When the night taps on glass
and, in the dark, I brush past down comforters,
          puffy as birds fluffed and huddled
          away from a storm,
to see who’s there, I find
no one but myself, an aging woman, small
as a finch. Shivering, I put on a heavy
white Irish sweater that I’ve mended and mended to keep
its comfort whole, and though outside I know that the sunflowers are bending almost to the earth with autumn
so that I also need wool socks, soft as gardenias,
on my bare feet before I descend
the stairs, it’s not the fatigue
of sleep disturbance that I carry with me.
It’s anticipation.
Like the lightning clusters of gypsy peppers
ripening in their late season pots, I feel tight,
ready. Tonight, something called me down these stairs
to find an old book, on my shelves since college.
I think that if it weren’t
for Wilbur’s title,
“Love Calls Us To Things of This World,”
the poem would never
have stayed in my mind. At times like this I think I understand
what my education has been all about:
ordering the mind so that it is clear
enough to hear Beauty’s voice, and perhaps
to remember it.
Love has always called me.
When Creeley says, “O Love, where are you leading me,”
I trust that he really knows the answer. A rhetorical question,
with infinite replies. Creeley is warning

that poetry/love takes you to
divine and dangerously beautiful

          As Wilbur experienced it briefly in the clean sheets
          flapping on the clothesline in Italy;
          as it nudged D. H. Lawrence in Sicily forcing him
          belatedly to realize the divine presence
          of the venomous gold snake;
          as it transformed killing into new birth
          in Kinnell’s eskimo spirit hibernating in
          the trophy bearskin;
          as it nudged Jack Gilbert
          finding the hairs of dead Michiko tangled
          in the earth of a potted plant;
          as it touched Gary Snyder, bathing communally
          with his wife and children in their outdoor sauna.

Waking to night tapping, or the voice,
inhuman, of our old house creaking in the cold
sometimes gives me a
sense of knowing, that like all of them,
I have been in the presence
of Beauty.
Waking to it.
          Unlike the frequent insomnia that tears me ragged
                    and reveals my emptiness
                              many nights       when the details
          of my life seen like stained ribbons of old cloth,
                    banal as TV news,
                              or tainted with stupidity.
When I know Beauty
has deserted me.

I do not listen for angels
or think that I might ever actually
hear them. What I hear is the soft turning of pages,
the clink of my cup of steaming Assam tea
against its huge saucer, the hard edge of my mind
drawing a line that extends like a wireless cable into an eternity
where I imagine that if I have been quiet enough,
or slept with an empty enough mind,
I can visit.

Tonight I’ve heard the voice of a fifties poem saying, “Love
calls us
to things of this world”
so clearly in my ear that I could not remain
lying there
in the inner warmth of my marriage,
cuddled, cosseted,
a woman whose old angers
have died, sometimes now a peaceful woman, aging.
Instead, the sound on the glass,
the swish of linen, my padded body
all combine to make me say “I’m ready,
I’m ready.” Even though I should have asked,
“who is calling?”