James Merrill

A young one who’d have thought
dreaming in late light
before a portico
pinker than nougat
His father’s terrible head
laid aside uncovers
an ink sketch by Cocteau
The earlobe’s cunning nugget
Colors of Crete    Sun washing
black locks blood-red

Pale ankle firm as cactus
escaping from his cloak
dense with soft black spines
To see not quite a threat
to touch not quite a joke
A vital rivulet
pulsing along his throat
he looks up     Shafts of blue
fatally attract us
Drawn two by two

after him through the maze
we’ve come as tribute    Ten
old women ten old men
This youngster is expected
to feed on what we are
or were     Mind’s meat heart’s blood
all that we’ve seen and known
treasured up rejected
will now become his body
Devour my life each prays

Amazement     Golden beeline
for greenest dark     Strong fusion
of grape and cardamom
As for the “sacrifice”
one lightning-fleet contusion
sparklers of ice
farewell’s euphoric hail
It must have been benign
if we lived through it      Did we
Depends who tells the tale

James Merrill (1926–1995) was one of the foremost American poets of the later twentieth century. He published eleven volumes of poems, in addition to the trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover. He also wrote plays, novels, and a memoir.
Originally published:
April 1, 1999


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James Merrill


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