Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in
Shape of a camel? By the mass, and 'tis
Like a camel, indeed. Methinks it is like
A weasel. It is backed like a weasel.
Or like a whale? Very like a whale.
Then I will come to my mother by and by.
Coral and shells are heaped until it seems
That everyone is rich, until the dreams
Of millionaires are clothing for the poor;
The world appears as it appeared before
The age of iron or the age of bronze:
Silvery beaches and wide, golden lawns.
Above all, changing: Perfect lambs one moment,
Moses the next, hurling his decalogues.
Elaborate as the handle of a silver spoon
Endlessly lifted to the perplexity
Of your smile. Smiling, collapsing -- soundlessly
Offering themselves and moving off.
Slowly they graze the mountaintops, slow
Cows wandering home to their sunset--
Mildly anxious, leaking drops of milk
Into the monumental snow.
Now it is dark. Instead of bells, a blare
Of traffic and the chink of silverware.
A mother, fecund as Tuscany, pleased
To represent something so basically human
That even city people offer it
The yearly tribute of a Christmas card;
And yet she wonders who she'll want to be
Tomorrow when her babies disappear.
Love, you say -- you love me. Then you become
A patch of sunlight propped against a wall,
A warmth that vanishes by three o'clock,
A pattern scratched upon a pretty stone,
A thought, a Romanesque basilica,
With turgid fables flaking from the dome.
Or words -- crisp unambiguous nouns, and verbs
Passing before us at an even pace,
Unswerving, with an army's iron grace;
But lovelier than these, if less distinct,
Those adjectives that decorate a blank,
White, wide, and slightly terrified face.
A wound, perhaps, but I've forgotten it
As if it were a dream that had recurred
Throughout my childhood: something orange, or red;
A flower, or a terrible mistake;
Someone at a previous address
Who gave me mittens, or who gave me socks.
An inclined plane, a wheel, a water glass--
Half engineering, half a work of art;
A human orrery that duplicates
The simple motions of the lungs and heart.
But turn it upside down and it becomes
Confetti circling in a paperweight.
As food flows into them, inaudible
To us, in cadenced shrills, they signal each
To each: I breathe, I move away, I need.
I need. The plankton, every molecule
Of water and of air is shaken by
The swelling and subsiding of their talk.
From century to century, the gist,
The motive antecedent to the act,
The indecipherable sense of it,
Even this, slips; the serried surfaces
Are left, draperies for archaeologists
To number and, provisionally, name.
You: you are the cloud I never name,
The language that I cannot learn, the game,
I neither lose nor altogether win;
Illusion of another world above
The world beneath, outside the world within.
I squint, I blink -- but still I see you, love.
Copyright © 1989 Thomas M. Disch. Reprinted by permission.
Author of over a dozen novels, five story collections, seven volumes of poetry, two books of criticism, and more, Thomas M. Disch has been publishing since the early 1960s. His best-known SF novels are the critically acclaimed Camp Concentration and 334; his book of SF criticism, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, won both the Hugo and Locus awards. He currently splits his time between New York City and his house in upstate New York. For more, visit this fine Web site.