Phi Beta Kappa poem, Yale University, 2011
Like an island, a key makes a door. In the surge
Of its mineral clarity, seas come unbound.
Though an arch curves together, the keystone will stay
Braced in gravity, locked by immensity, wound
To a temple in air by the spiraling play
That could tumble much heavier forces. What’s found
Past the musical notes that cascade and converge
In a key, past the tock the tick carries away
When it’s wound by a key? There are patterns that merge
Meanings, silent until we code them open,
Clued to us by the random knowing tribes:
Carvings, letters, hands, faces, symbols, stars.
Each warm friction’s vibration circumscribes
One more seat in the clearing where we are
Gathered, circling a home we can’t describe.
What’s the word but a word that can’t be spoken?
Who’d tear pleasure out past life’s iron bars?
Where’s the use of a code that won’t be broken?
A ring of keys hangs like a question at your side.
You move through the answering darkness like a key,
While windows of moonlight branch down the catacombs
And rustle each prisoner into mystery.
Each lock, like each room, is alone till the opening comes;
Your ring reaches one, then another. Liberty
Repeats down the corridor, doors pulled open wide,
Exploding more showers of sweetness through the combs
Whose locks had been waiting for one key to be tried.
From Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2012). Commissioned by Yale University and first published in The American Scholar.