Vade Mecum*
Gail Segal

Day One

Who can say
what with words
shredded, gnawed at the edges
a friction of use eating away at them?
The whole house, termite-infested,
and the beams
supporting the structure
have been chewed to the ground.
Day Two

It will be the first time
when through the window of night
I see bats flitting a blackness
over the red tiles
and the stone floor a coldness
and the air from the Adige
a coolness and the bats
a manic chemistry of fireworks
without fire, without sparkle
or light or ash light dripping
or ash.
Day Three

What I love about the paintings
by Vermeer, even postcards
of paintings by Vermeer
is stillness, light trapped
in two dimensions
color, shape
and a map of the warring world.
Yes, and that other unspeakable
essence that comes
when a woman draws
the strands of daily living
into polishing one pearl.
Day Four

Green soap, green fish and
the white porcelain tiles
white basin, the white tub
standing on claw feet. They
bathe together, the girls, sipping suds
like soup from a spoon
covering their private parts
that have not yet grown private
and the green water currents
underneath between their legs.
Day Five

Without faith
I'm left to enact
a ritual of obedience
prying from its habit
of entering half-worlds half-drunk
from low pleasures, myself
dragged like grain in a sack
to that place
where forced to fill
with handfuls of dirt
a deepening hole
(they said it was my dog)
in the neighbor's yard.
Day Six

bound, duplicated, stacked, shelved.
What do I want of this?
Give me a face to study
--mask of intention,
proportion, facade--
and with it
houses packed into a hillside
and the sun going down. Give me
flowerless trellises,
the late-day sun,
a woman at the window,
eyes peering through
without inflection.
Day Seven

One story will raise the soul
from its dead body. So what?
Think of the scars. Think
of the scars stretching
and the incense choking
and the processional of black robes
and stale bread
and the parishioners huffing
when the small boys
in the back row
begin a skirmish
over the yellow truck
wheeling itself up every scarred surface.
Day Eight

Close to the end I dream
of Jim Jarmusch without
the shock of hair or height
but essence intact: thread
(red, like Ariadne gives to Theseus)
he follows to the center
dragging words like fish
from that pool. In the dream
he says only what he means,
carefully. I listen
then say too much.
Day Nine

Seeds stuffed into cups
filled with soil
a dash of water, names
in magic marker
across the styrofoam.
Like tiny altar boys in white collars
they line the ledge below the window.
Each day the hurried shuffle.
Children peer into cups
half-mooned with dirt.
Some are afraid.
Some are sick of the tiresome wait.
Some curse the Florida light
and the word, 'promise.'
Day Ten

Empty bucket,
empty plate, empty promise,
empty dream, vacant,
containing nothing
and then there is
the verb. Why not look
into the room where once
you lived together?
Why not look into a sky
cast in blue without cloud?
Day Eleven

In the dream
she rides the bull, horned, bucking,
next to a high hedge
and with great thrill,
across a vast lawn of the Middle Ages
still gripped by her thighs,
the bull shrinks into dung beetle,
a scarab that turns
into carnelian
and slips
from her open hand
into the long-leafed grass.
Day Twelve

So this is the day that Saturn
drags himself from Taurus,
crouched, limp-legged
backlit by stars that shape
a bull. And traveling
what will you take with you?
Vade mecum.
Or put another way,
what will you reach for first
when from your delicious dream
the smell of smoke
arouses? What will you stuff
into your pockets when
through the floorboards
the flames arch and rise?

[*] Vade mecum: anything carried for constant use, a guidebook, manual, bag;
literally, 'Go with me.'

(Gail Segal studied with Ellen Bryant Voigt, Tom Lux, and Michael Ryan as a
student in the Warren Wilson MFA Program, which she completed in 1989. Her
poems have appeared in Chelsea, Gulf Coast, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and
New Orleans Review
, and her translations of Italian poet Alfred dePalchi, Addictive
, were published in book form in 1999 (Zenon Press). Her first
manuscript, In Gravity's Pull, is forthcoming from Shank Painter Press in 2002.
Segal teaches in the Graduate Film Program at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.)