They set off, by morning, in the gray dawn,
carrying the only things they called their own:
basket, compass, child.
In the fourth day they came, at last,
to a river, carried her water
for the child in her.
On the sixth day they fell again
in the old snow, looked at each other
and smiled. The immensity,
the great joke of being.
On the seventh day she failed to rise
in the gray wind. He found them
a dark barn in the deep drifts
and carried her inside
among the ox-stench
and laid her in the old hay
in the slatted light.
The heaviness, the slight lie
of arrival. The dying light
like honey in the rafters;
the taste of it
and silver; the heft of it, the breath
of it; the hush.
Why should we show you
what it did to them? The rest of it
was fever dreams, was weakening.
They were found
in the last dawn of the second
age, she with her arms around her child,
he with his arms around
There are the moments
when the flesh
is all we have left
and the moments
when the spirit's blaze
can change us
and the moments
when the shape of our unknowing
is the same as the shape
of someone's fire
and that burning is eternity enough.
Nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus
We are like strangers in the wild places. We watch
the deer swinging the intricate velvet from its antlers, never knowing
we are only as immense as what we shed in the dance.
The bride and bridegroom stand at the altar. Each thing
learned in mercy has a river in it. It holds the cargo
of a thousand crafts of fire that went down at evening.
We can neither endure our misfortunes nor face
the remedies needed to cure them. The fawns move
through the forest, and we move through the ruins of the dance.
Like Job, the mourner lays his head on the cold oak
of the table. His heart is a hundred calla lilies
under the muck of the river, opening before evening.
We think there is another shore. We stand with the new life
like a mooring rope across our shoulders, never guessing
that the staying is the freightage of the dance.
Orpheus turned to see his Eurydice gone. The Furies tore him
into pieces. The sun, he said, I will worship the sun.
But something in his ruin cried out for evening, evening, evening.
The wrens build at dusk. Friends, I love their moss-dressed
nests twisting in the pitch of the rafters, for they have taught me
that the ruins of the dance are the dance.
Previously published in Rattle.
Joseph Fasano is a poet, novelist, and songwriter. His books include The Swallows of Lunetto (Maudlin House, 2022), The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing (Platypus Press, 2020), The Crossing (Cider Press, 2018), Vincent (2015), Inheritance (2014), and Fugue for Other Hands (2013). His honors include the Cider Press Review Book Award, the Rattle Poetry Prize, and eight Pushcart Prize nominations. His work has been widely translated and anthologized, most recently in The Forward Book of Poetry 2022 (Faber and Faber). He teaches at Columbia University and Manhattanville College.