Kate Northrop

Here you will find the Long Poem Affair With Various Endings of poet Kate Northrop

Affair With Various Endings

I. Kempton, Pennsylvania

Perhaps the last of the light
lifting this evening from the field of wheat

means something. Perhaps the view
includes us, and we are not errors 
in the landscape

or meant to be erased. The painter, it's true,
prefers not to preserve 
our figures in the brush

of hills layered into green. Perhaps he too
is careless with the truth. What lies

have you had to tell to land you here

outside Kempton, with the creek rising behind us?
How did the story sound? If I say your hand
on my thigh, the truck still idles

beneath us, tracks in the frozen road

that months from now will thaw
& heave. If I say your mouth 
and the deer begin drifting

across the field, who's to say 
we didn't call them out—their figures shadowy,

their eyes gem-like and glittering?

II. Undine

It was all too urgent being human.
You ordered drinks, gestured 
with your hands, told stories

and the more I knew

the more I was frightened. Those evenings
the air came unpinned, got lost
in autumn & dusk, in the leaves

at the edge of the field. And weren't the edges themselves
vanishing? When you walked to the barn
where the cats had gone in,

taken to rafters. I heard your footsteps 
moving the gravel, the ice
in your glass of vodka. 

 I listened like that
for the ends of things: the last of the cars, the headlights crossing
our bedroom. I listened
to your breathing.

 but rooms kept turning in places 
I could not ignore. I left because I loved you

without reserve. Because I would not be allowed

to keep you with me in the world.

III. "Kings River Canyon"

Because when you read it your voice shakes,
 breaks over the last words,

Because in the Pennsylvania Hospital
at 8th and Spruce, surgeons have split open your chest
and with instruments

are cutting your heart, 

and because I wanted to hurt them, because they never
 get older, but return each year

refreshed, blond—

I read the poem, Rexroth walking back through the canyon
where twenty years before he had slept 
with his new wife

at the beginning of autumn. 
It was her birthday

and they lay there on the hard earth,

the stream running beside 
and the walls soaring up

to hold them there. Maybe
he made love to her, the air
chilling the skin

or maybe that was the disease

beginning even then, gathering itself deep
inside her body, considering 
the distance between itself

and the surface.
 There was no path.
They'd cut their way into the canyon

where eighteen years later,
a highway's been blasted through. Eighteen years
he writes ground to pieces.

I am more alone that I ever imagined.

You are dead. And in the mechanical
cool of the classroom
I felt it grip me:

how it will be without you
when I'll be fifty-five, sixty,

in the beginning of winter, in the first
waves of snow. I'll watch the slow drag
of the Schulykill

or I'll go the garden where we met,
the leaves spinning down
into the empty fountain,

where I will never see you, 
not again, not your hands, your face,
or hear aloud the way

you said my name. I'll turn
and turn again,

but you'll be gone, nothing filling up your place.