|If I Never Say
Our separations wear two faces:
one of pain when you drive away
and I watch you fade, diminish in distance
as if our time together had never been-
the wrenching panic of intrusive finality;
another when I'm the one who launches out
beyond the saving orbit of your presence
and I think of you from afar, wondering
do you think of me as I do you,
imagining small sounds—the cat in the hall,
the horses blowing at dawn, the owls—
I listen to you listening, watch for you to see,
dear that you may forget, fearing myself.
I write in an airport, on small yellow pads,
surrounded by tired, noisy strangers,
and miss your reassurance,
hand on mine, head nodding near
as dark falls outside while we wait.
I revise the words on another continent:
time passes slowly without you,
dull and heavy even in the midst of wonders.
What little joy in these solitary flights among throngs,
these bus-rides, meals, and empty beds—
for all are vacant without you,
London this time, New York last.
I must stop this curious, hungry round,
this emptiness that turns the heart:
foolish pursuit of what I cannot reach,
would not have without you here
where I might watch the brilliant sunset
dazzle in your eyes, The English moonlight
spread its cool upon your brown as we walk,
and hear the soft breath of your dreaming.
I start this on the day I leave,
longing to turn back before the ocean,
before the landing, the London summer,
the libraries my head turns to
when my routine world grows tight and dry,
the museums and the ale.
What strange mixed blessing-
to have the will to travel, and the means,
and all at once, unexpected, you too ill to fly,
to find myself gone alone, like a single
yellow poplar, leaf turning on the current
of a brown and luminescent river
winding silent among pines and poplars
through forests we knew better once, together.
the leaf, though, doesn't feel its transience,
its terrible and floating brevity,
nor that I see it as I write
and miss you all the more
for every moment sunk in absence
and the autumn of separation.
“These poems move with deep feeling and are simply beautiful. They shine with complexity in theme and structure while embracing the simplest of human experience; they hold the flavor of the uniquely written at the same time as the universally recognized. Readers can experience Behrendt's work either as simple pleasure or as intense intellectual engagement. Either way, the poems fulfill our expectations as continuously beautiful craft and art, one after the other.”—Literary Review
“A Step in the Dark has the rich savor of work aged in the heart and mind. Passionate and witty, the poems are recollected in tranquility, presented with the small measure of detachment that Wordsworth recommends. These poems are brilliant and wise, deeply satisfying and compassionate. I can't imagine having lived without them.”—Hilda Raz
“These poems are not afraid to be gorgeous, yet Behrendt's eloquence is free of preening and preciousness. A Step in the Dark is a gift book, in many senses of the phrase. Reading it, I experienced a tragic and compassionate vision of the world ‘dignified and lovely in the robes of mystery.’”—Alice Fulton
“Over 80 years ago, in ‘The Prose Tradition in Verse,’ Pound wrote of the virtues of‘clarity and precision’ he found essential to all good writing. Readers will find such virtues in A Step in the Dark. They will also find a generous inclusiveness, both in stance and subject matter, to the available world. No small accomplishments, given the self-preoccupations of so much contemporary work.”—Robert Gibb