The Past
by Warren W. Werner (1952-1996)

Listen, John: an Indian princess
whom no one will marry
wastes all afternoon in a garden
in Surrey, England. She looks down
almost humble, at her colorful knees,
like an undergraduate in the Greenery
with a table to herself, her head bent
over her glass of beer, watching the bubbles
reluctantly rise and rise.--
Let her be with her thoughts.--
Fabulous and unnamed trees
stand like strangers
around the garden.
She sits on a stone bench
beside a useless bird bath
hovering above the bluegrass
and tells herself a story
as if to a child at bedtime, by rote,
about a young prince on horseback
whose head is wrapped in white silk
and whose body is wrapped
in white cotton. In build,
and aim, he reminds me of Arjuna,
who once learned so much
from Krishna. The prince travels for months
over mountains and roads
dusty as riverbeds. He stops
at every town, puts forward
his questions, but leaves in an hour
with no more knowledge
than that this is not the road
he entered on. He becomes a serious student
of guide books, maps, beggars' hands,
almost prepared for the examinations
on his failures.
One day, perhaps in a forest
or while sailing across an empty lake,
the prince will die, of course,
but not yet. In fact,
at this moment, the prince's horse
breaks a strap and he needs help,
three young girls smile
to distract him, a beggar
slips a knife from his sleeve, and . . .
The old story is endless.

I give you this gift, John,
because I can afford nothing
else. I have slept poorly for a week,
studying again women we never married
and the fabulous ones
we will come to know in old age
and of how little one may give
in a world where the value
of the antique teakwood box inlaid
with mother-of-pearl
found at an auction in a barn
in Nelsonville, Ohio, where cold fire
carefully possesses the ancient Opera House,
attracts more praise
than the quiet air inside.

N'est-ce pas?
I can be sad any night. Of late,
I have dreamed wordlessly
of driving the turnpike
across Pennsylvania. A Jaguar.
The color of good wine, from Bordeaux.
Blood-thirsty Krishna nodding,
lulled.
From an Ohio to a New Jersey
that doesn't exist
until death.