James Merrill – The Broken Home Lyrics

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Crossing the street
I saw the parents and the child
At their window, gleaming like fruit
With evening’s mild gold leaf

In a room on the floor below
Sunless, cooler—a brimming
Saucer of wax, marbly and dim—
I have lit what’s left of my life

I have thrown out yesterday’s milk
And opened a book of maxims. 10
The flame quickens. The word stirs

Tell me, tongue of fire
That you and I are as real
At least as the people upstairs

*

My father, who had flown in World War I
Might have continued to invest his life
In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife
But the race was run below, and the point was to win

Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
(Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
The soul eclipsed by twin black pupils, sex
And business; time was money in those days

Each thirteenth year he married. When he died
There were already several chilled wives
In sable orbit—rings, cars, permanent waves
We'd felt him warming up for a green bride

He could afford it. He was "in his prime"
At three score ten. But money was not time

*

When my parents were younger this was a popular act:
A veiled woman would leap from an electric, wine-dark car
To the steps of no matter what—the Senate or the Ritz Bar—
And bodily, at newsreel speed, attack

No matter whom—Al Smith or José María Sert
Or Clemenceau—veins standing out on her throat
As she yelled War mongerer! Pig! Give us the vote!
And would have to be hauled away in her hobble skirt

What had the man done? Oh, made history
Her business (he had implied) was giving birth
Tending the house, mending the socks

Always that same old story—
Father Time and Mother Earth
A marriage on the rocks

*

One afternoon, red, satyr-thighed
Michael, the Irish setter, head
Passionately lowered, led
The child I was to a shut door. Inside

Blinds beat sun from the bed
The green-gold room throbbed like a bruise
Under a sheet, clad in taboos
Lay whom we sought, her hair undone, outspread

And of a blackness found, if ever now, in old
Engravings where the acid bit
I must have needed to touch it
Or the whiteness—was she dead?

Her eyes flew open, startled strange and cold
The dog slumped to the floor. She reached for me. I fled

*

Tonight they have stepped out onto the gravel
The party is over. It's the fall
Of 1931. They love each other still
She: Charlie, I can't stand the pace
He: Come on, honey—why, you'll bury us all!

A lead soldier guards my windowsill:
Khaki rifle, uniform, and face
Something in me grows heavy, silvery, pliable

How intensely people used to feel!
Like metal poured at the close of a proletarian novel
Refined and glowing from the crucible
I see those two hearts, I'm afraid
Still. Cool here in the graveyard of good and evil
They are even so to be honored and obeyed

*

. . . Obeyed, at least, inversely. Thus
I rarely buy a newspaper, or vote
To do so, I have learned, is to invite
The tread of a stone guest within my house

Shooting this rusted bolt, though, against him
I trust I am no less time's child than some
Who on the heath impersonate Poor Tom
Or on the barricades risk life and limb

Nor do I try to keep a garden, only
An avocado in a glass of water—
Roots pallid, gemmed with air. And later

When the small gilt leaves have grown
Fleshy and green, I let them die, yes, yes
And start another. I am earth's no less

*

A child, a red dog roam the corridors
Still, of the broken home. No sound. The brilliant
Rag runners halt before wide-open doors
My old room! Its wallpaper—cream, medallioned
With pink and brown—brings back the first nightmares
Long summer colds, and Emma, sepia-faced
Perspiring over broth carried upstairs
Aswim with golden fats I could not taste

The real house became a boarding school
Under the ballroom ceiling's allegory
Someone at last may actually be allowed
To learn something; or, from my window, cool
With the unstiflement of the entire story
Watch a red setter stretch and sink in cloud

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