Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
The Cloud Descends
By Maxwell Bodenheim
  [A small water-pool at the base of a hill. The pool is in the foreground, and its waters stretch out of view to left and right. Behind them is the hill, steeply sloping backward. Above the almost flat-topped hill a thin bar of bright blue sky is visible. The pool is calm, and colored a deep brownish-blue. Near its centre it bears the bluish-white reflection of an irregular oval cloud floating in the sky. It is late afternoon and softly bright dwindling light drapes the scene. Ten seconds after the curtain-rise, the Cloud drops waveringly down from the sky and alights to the extreme left of a narrow, slightly-curved stretch of ground in front of the pool. His image draws near him, to the edge of the pool; he looks down upon it for several seconds.]

  Cloud.  Image of me, child born of color on water,
Trailing over the water’s breast
Like the sigh of a lover paling the breast of his love:
Sigh making the water white,
Sigh that I drop from the sky,        5
Image of me, let us speak.
The sighs of a lover hold meanings he does not know.
  Cloud-image  [A voice from the pool].
Do not call me your sighing; I am more than that.
I am an image of you
Straining, within the moments of life        10
I hold, to catch the shadowed soul
Whose first whisper slips into death.
I am a stranger to myself
Wakening to moments of pallid longing.
  Cloud  [After a pause].
Sky is the reflection of some vast far-off smile
Making a blue breast warmer.
Sky has a lover who flings her jewels,
Fierce with the love he cannot bring.
She strings the jewels over her body—
Chained lover throwing one vast smile and trinkets        20
That mock the love whipping him….
I love her too, but I cannot look upward,
So I am happier.
Her breath comes down, in winds,
And thrusts me along while I shake        25
Beneath biting hints of her that are like pale whips.
  [A pause.]
Image of me, I have wondered
Whether you longed for life
To open the closed cries in your shadowed heart,
As much as I and the unseen lover        30
Long for sky. I wondered, and so came down
To give you a voice.
  Cloud-image.  Ashen regrets within me
Dwindle to even lighter ashes:
Ashes that are like dying breath        35
After it passes through fire.
In my moments of life, I fancied myself
A wraith-like prince standing erect a moment
Between high columns of silence that fell upon him
One by one, ever rising to fall again.        40
But now I know I am only light and color
Spotting the dark breasts of this pool
With stinted love that cannot form itself
Into a moment of actual touch.
I have not even a soul.        45
  Cloud.  Image of me, the milky, dishevelled shadow
Of my own soul drops on you.
Shadows are often mirrors.
I see within you parts of myself
That were too tenuous to be even haze:        50
Parts that I never knew.
  Cloud-image.  Why do you spin a rustling fairy-tale?
Tender scarves cannot make me proud.
  Cloud.  You are the milky, dishevelled shadow of my soul.
  Cloud-image  [After a pause].
I believe you, perhaps because I long to believe:
Or because your words are riotously afraid.
  Cloud  [After another pause].
You have an undertone of red—
Red like the color left by maiden-lips
Upon the cheeks of some memory:
Maiden lips that shrunk to dust        60
And were blown away, leaving red that cannot be seen
By far-away eyes.
There is no red upon me …. who gave you this red?
  Cloud-image.  I do not know; I have often felt it.
It seemed a word of love        65
Writhing under rancid wraiths that bound it.
I thought it the answer of this pool,
Whose love for me was chained because
I passed so quickly.
  Cloud.  Wisps of caresses only make love bitter and tall,        70
Or slay it …. Red …. can you speak to me?
  Voice of the Pool  [Deeper than the Cloud-image’s voice and rising from the rear edge of the pool. The Cloud starts back as he hears it].
I am this pool: this red is mine.
Two soldiers splashed into me, long ago.
Red sprang from them in nervous trickles
Like hunted passions never dying,        75
Yet always seeming to take their last step.
And on the soldiers’ faces, red and black
Were transfigured while wrestling to reach wild eyes.
The soldiers sank within my edge
And knowing they would die        80
Dragged themselves further in, preferring a quicker death.
The red of them made me feel
Like a mother forever holding a child
That perished within her, spreading over her body.
Their bones are deep in my heart: I cannot feel them.        85
Their bodies have faded out to uneasy memories,
So thin that they can sleep between
Folds of the red I bear.
  [A short interval of silence. A Woman slowly walks out upon the narrow stretch of ground in front of the pool. She stops two paces away from the Cloud, raises an arm, as though in weary supplication, but checks herself, and slowly turns to the pool, intently gazing upon it.]
  Woman.  Cloud-image, are you a child,
With moments of awakening sprinkled over endless sleep?        90
And do you carry small treasures into your sleep,
To gladden the sparkling shoulders of dreams?
I will fling myself into this pool
And so become wedded to you, and lose
The sharp silence flooding my moments of sleep:        95
The sharp silence keeping its edge
Because an even sharper grief swings it into me.
  [A pause.]
My husband was a soldier: he is dead.
Perhaps he lies at the bottom of this pool
That sways him as a tired stranger        100
Lifts up a body he has found on the road:
A body that brings him no grief.
Perhaps I shall swerve against him and taste his breast
Without fear, before I slip into you, Cloud-image.
  Cloud-image.  Why do you seek to join me?        105
The life that humans know
Is a parade of cloud-images
Mantled with faintest red.
Humans are deep pools crossed by cloud-figures
Who mistake the red cast of the pool        110
For love words too low to be heard…..
And the clouds creeping over the pools are too high to be seen.
  Woman  [In a louder voice, after a pause. She has seated herself, with a quick feathery movement, beside the pool].
If I could only be an actual cloud!
I would bend like a gracious priest rustling his gown of pale prayers,
And shaking his mist-ringlets, as he marries        115
His images with drifting gestures of death.
If I could only be a real cloud!
  [The Cloud, who has been standing still and watching her, suddenly rushes forward and flings himself upon her, hiding her from view. For several seconds he holds her thus. Then he rises, lifting her in his arms.]
  Cloud  [With soft triumph].
I have often looked down upon this parade
Of weary cloud-images crossing the depths of humans
Who scarcely felt them; looked and longed        120
To swoop down, closing upon a woman or child
And gently spreading her over me.
  [A pause.]
Am I happier now?…. It does not matter:
Happiness is the melting-clawed ghost of human-beings,
But clouds do not need it.
  [He rises from the ground, as the curtain falls.]

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