Tell the Truth

To claim, at a dead party, to have spotted a grackle, 
When in fact you haven’t of late, can do no harm.
Your reputation for saying things of interest 
Will not be marred, if you hasten to other topics, 
Nor will the delicate web of human trust 
Be ruptured by that airy fabrication.

—Richard Wilbur, “Lying”


You wake and reach for the phone. No one is harmed 
if you call your wife to claim you have seen the Pacific 
at dawn, running for miles over the quick 
blossom-and-fade of an image, on the glassy sand, 
when the mist and the lightly stippled sea were a single 
tone of gray. A simple invention. Meanwhile, 
far below, the trackless beach and the green, 
heaving ocean are beginning, only now, 
to be disclosed in the wide panes of your room. 
You wake alone. What have you done? Nothing, 
or next to nothing, or let us say, you have altered 
the sense of a thing in its telling, like Conrad’s Nostromo, 
the fallen hero who stole the silver he was trusted 
to guard. He wakes alone, on the half-moon beach, 
on the island where he hides the cargo of ingots. To account 
for this loss, he begins to invent a vita nuova, 
for his life is his to shape, a lump of wax, 
a blank, a dead space to fill, like the ceiling 
of your neutral room, which you now begin to fill, 
lying in bed, first with a fervid blue 
from Annibale Carracci, and then with white and gray 
bursts of billowing cloud, edged in pink. 
Up the vaulting space, muscular figures 
stream, with red robes aswirl, with arms 
outflung. Their eyes are wide, their mouths agape, 
they are all ecstatic, or alarmed, or they are racing 
to bring the news of what they have seen, faithful 
to fact, but greatly heightened. They are disarming 
messengers, and their words have designs on us — 
“I saw the figure five in gold,” or “I caught 
this morning morning’s minion.” It does you no harm 
to believe them, although you long to be as simple 
and passionate as the dawn, the unequivocal angel 
who glides down a single gilt diagonal 
to the truth, speaking without premeditation, 
stirred by nothing but the factual world as given, 
a colorless wind that spins the aluminum turbine 
blades to a silvery blur, and shakes the wind chime’s 
bamboo tubes into random, artless song, 
a few notes, in the quiet evening, on the porch 
where we sit together and say, we have had enough 
of projecting ourselves into dramatic scenes,