Night Opens the Foothills

Leslie Ullman Click to read more...

Leslie Ullman’s first book, Natural Histories, recieved the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and her subsequent books are Dream by No One’s Daughter (Pittsburgh, 1987) and Slow Work Through Sand (Iowa, 1998). She is an emerita professor at the University of Texas, El Passo and teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program. She recieved NEA fellowship in 1976 and 1989

Mind walks through the house turning off
every lamp but one, leaving
a trail of small relinquishments—

a book turned face-down
at the spot where sleepiness overtook
the little cogs and wheels,

a cup of tea tasted and then forgotten.
What has not been accomplished
lingers as restlessness that braids

itself into Mind’s imperfect
sleep, the cogs and wheels of dreams
and now the house and all the other houses

strung along the seams of the valley are left
to themselves. The words spoken inside them
all day, the air displaced from objects

lifted and set down, and the scents of onion
or lemon oil settle into paper, into cloth,
between grains of polished wood. Each house

breathes on its own now, the sound of
water staying warm in its tank.

The mountain melts into the night, veiled
and uninhabited. An altar. A silence.
The houses melt into the mountain

in that most private hour just before
dawn sets every timber and stone, every
roof, every dish and birdcall back in place.

*

In that most private hour, Mind
heats the coffee and, some mornings,
finds itself reading of other lives

as the sun inches towards plums
in a white bowl. The ceramic glaze
of the cup. They could be stones resting

in a clear stream, bathed as they are
in the silence of another kind of morning
absorbed and given purpose:

stones to be shaped and fitted for
the cathedral, bone needles
pulled along seams of rough cloth

as the nuns’ way of listening to their God
and bread broken and passed around,
breaking a fast that once sharpened, as it

sharpens still, the colors and contours
of faith, and savored as though nothing,
at the moment, could be more desired.

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