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by Galway Kinnell |

from Flying Home

3 
As this plane dragged 
its track of used ozone half the world long 
thrusts some four hundred of us 
toward places where actual known people 
live and may wait, 
we diminish down in our seats, 
disappeared into novels of lives clearer than ours, 
and yet we do not forget for a moment 
the life down there, the doorway each will soon enter: 
where I will meet her again 
and know her again, 
dark radiance with, and then mostly without, the stars. 

Very likely she has always understood 
what I have slowly learned, 
and which only now, after being away, almost as far away 
as one can get on this globe, almost 
as far as thoughts can carry - yet still in her presence, 
still surrounded not so much by reminders of her 
as by things she had already reminded me of, 
shadows of her 
cast forward and waiting - can I try to express: 

that love is hard, 
that while many good things are easy, true love is not, 
because love is first of all a power, 
its own power, 
which continually must make its way forward, from night 
into day, from transcending union always forward into difficult day. 

And as the plane descends, it comes to me 
in the space 
where tears stream down across the stars, 
tears fallen on the actual earth 
where their shining is what we call spirit, 
that once the lover 
recognizes the other, knows for the first time 
what is most to be valued in another, 
from then on, love is very much like courage, 
perhaps it is courage, and even 
perhaps 
only courage. Squashed 
out of old selves, smearing the darkness 
of expectation across experience, all of us little 
thinkers it brings home having similar thoughts 
of landing to the imponderable world, 
the transoceanic airliner, 
resting its huge weight down, comes in almost lightly, 
to where 
with sudden, tiny, white puffs and long, black, rubberish smears 
all its tires know the home ground.


by Galway Kinnell |

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September 
among the fat, overripe, icy black blackberries 
to eat blackberries for breakfast, 
the stalks are very prickly, a penalty 
they earn for knowing the black art 
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them 
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries 
fall almost unbidden to my tongue, 
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words 
like strengths or squinched, 
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps 
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well 
in the silent, startled, icy, black language 
of blackberry-eating in late September.


by Galway Kinnell |

The Bear

1
In late winter 
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow 
and bend close and see it is lung-colored 
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear. 

2
I take a wolf's rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears. 

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks, 
roaming in circles 
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth. 

And I set out 
running, following the splashes 
of blood wandering over the world. 
At the cut, gashed resting places 
I stop and rest, 
at the crawl-marks 
where he lay out on his belly 
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice 
I lie out 
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists. 

3
On the third day I begin to starve, 
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would 
at a turd sopped in blood, 
and hesitate, and pick it up, 
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down, 
and rise 
and go on running. 

4
On the seventh day, 
living by now on bear blood alone, 
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, 
steamy hulk, 
the heavy fur riffling in the wind. 

I come up to him 
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, 
the dismayed 
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils 
flared, catching 
perhaps the first taint of me as he 
died. 

I hack 
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, 
and tear him down his whole length 
and open him and climb in 
and close him up after me, against the wind, 
and sleep. 

5
And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra, 
stabbed twice from within, 
splattering a trail behind me, 
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, 
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, 
which dance of solitude I attempt, 
which gravity-clutched leap, 
which trudge, which groan. 

6
Until one day I totter and fall -- 
fall on this 
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, 
to digest the blood as it leaked in, 
to break up 
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze 
blows over me, blows off 
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood 
and rotted stomach 
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear, 

blows across 
my sore, lolled tongue a song 
or screech, until I think I must rise up 
and dance. And I lie still. 

7
I awaken I think. Marshlights 
reappear, geese 
come trailing again up the flyway. 
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear 
lies, licking 
lumps of smeared fur 
and drizzly eyes into shapes 
with her tongue. And one 
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, 
the next groaned out, 
the next, 
the next, 
the rest of my days I spend 
wandering: wondering 
what, anyway, 
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that 
poetry, by which I lived? 

from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967). 


by Galway Kinnell |

Little Sleeps-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight

1

You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
hard,
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.

2

I have heard you tell
the sun, don't go down, I have stood by
as you told the flower, don't grow old,
don't die. Little Maud,

I would blow the flame out of your silver cup,
I would suck the rot from your fingernail,
I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light,
I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones,
I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body,
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood,
I would let nothing of you go, ever,

until washerwomen
feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands,
and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades,
and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague,
and iron twists weapons toward the true north,
and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress,
and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men,
and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the
dark, O corpse-to-be ...

And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry,
this the nightmare you wake screaming from:
being forever
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.

3

In a restaurant once, everyone
quietly eating, you clambered up
on my lap: to all
the mouthfuls rising toward
all the mouths, at the top of your voice
you cried
your one word, caca! caca! caca!
and each spoonful
stopped, a moment, in midair, in its withering
steam.

Yes,
you cling because
I, like you, only sooner
than you, will go down
the path of vanished alphabets,
the roadlessness
to the other side of the darkness,

your arms
like the shoes left behind,
like the adjectives in the halting speech
of old men,
which once could call up the lost nouns.

4

And you yourself,
some impossible Tuesday
in the year Two Thousand and Nine, will walk out
among the black stones
of the field, in the rain,

and the stones saying
over their one word, ci-g?t, ci-g?t, ci-g?t,

and the raindrops
hitting you on the fontanel
over and over, and you standing there
unable to let them in.

5

If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a caf¨¦ at one end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking,
one day all this will only be memory,

learn,
as you stand
at this end of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come ¨C to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

6

In the light the moon
sends back, I can see in your eyes

the hand that waved once
in my father's eyes, a tiny kite
wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look:

and the angel
of all mortal things lets go the string.

7

Back you go, into your crib.

The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
Your eyes close inside your head,
in sleep. Already
in your dreams the hours begin to sing.

Little sleep's-head sprouting hair in the moonlight,
when I come back
we will go out together,
we will walk out together among
the ten thousand things,
each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages
of dying is love.


by Galway Kinnell |

On Frozen Fields

1 
We walk across the snow, 
The stars can be faint, 
The moon can be eating itself out, 
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth, 
The Northern Lights can be blooming and seething 
And tearing themselves apart all night, 
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy. 

2 
You in whose ultimate madness we live, 
You flinging yourself out into the emptiness, 
You - like us - great an instant, 

O only universe we know, forgive us.


by Galway Kinnell |

Saint Francis And The Sow

The bud 
stands for all things, 
even for those things that don't flower, 
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; 
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; 
as Saint Francis 
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch 
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow 
began remembering all down her thick length, 
from the earthen snout all the way 
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, 
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine 
down through the great broken heart 
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering 
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath 
them: 
the long, perfect loveliness of sow. 


by Galway Kinnell |

The Perch

There is a fork in a branch
of an ancient, enormous maple,
one of a grove of such trees,
where I climb sometimes and sit and look out
over miles of valleys and low hills.
Today on skis I took a friend
to show her the trees. We set out
down the road, turned in at
the lane which a few weeks ago,
when the trees were almost empty
and the November snows had not yet come,
lay thickly covered in bright red
and yellow leaves, crossed the swamp,
passed the cellar hole holding
the remains of the 1850s farmhouse
that had slid down into it by stages
in the thirties and forties, followed
the overgrown logging road
and came to the trees. I climbed up
to the perch, and this time looked
not into the distance but at
the tree itself, its trunk
contorted by the terrible struggle
of that time when it had its hard time.
After the trauma it grows less solid.
It may be some such time now comes upon me.
It would have to do with the unaccomplished,
and with the attempted marriage
of solitude and happiness. Then a rifle
sounded, several times, quite loud,
from across the valley, percussions
of the custom of male mastery
over the earth ¡ª the most graceful,
most alert of the animals
being chosen to die. I looked
to see if my friend had heard,
but she was stepping about on her skis,
studying the trees, smiling to herself,
her lips still filled, for all
we had drained them, with hundreds
and thousands of kisses. Just then
she looked up ¡ª the way, from low
to high, the god blesses ¡ª and the blue
of her eyes shone out of the black
and white of bark and snow, as lovers
who are walking on a freezing day
touch icy cheek to icy cheek,
kiss, then shudder to discover
the heat waiting inside their mouths.


by Galway Kinnell |

Fergus Falling

He climbed to the top
of one of those million white pines
set out across the emptying pastures
of the fifties - some program to enrich the rich
and rebuke the forefathers
who cleared it all at once with ox and axe - 
climbed to the top, probably to get out
of the shadow
not of those forefathers but of this father
and saw for the first time
down in its valley, Bruce Pond, giving off
its little steam in the afternoon,

pond where Clarence Akley came on Sunday mornings to cut
down
the cedars around the shore, I'd sometimes hear the slow
spondees
of his work, he's gone,
where Milton Norway came up behind me while I was 
fishing and
stood awhile before I knew he was there, he's the one who
put the
cedar shingles on the house, some have curled or split, a 
few have
blown off, he's gone,
where Gus Newland logged in the cold snap of '58, the only
man will-
ing to go into those woods that never got warmer than ten
below,
he's gone,
pond where two wards of the state wandered on Halloween, 
the Na-
tional Guard searched for them in November, in vain, the 
next fall a 
hunter found their skeletons huddled together, in vain, 
they're 
gone,
pond where an old fisherman in a rowboat sits, drowning
hooked
worms, when he goes he's replaced and is never gone,

and when Fergus
saw the pond for the first time
in the clear evening, saw its oldness down there
in its old place in the valley, he became heavier suddenly
in his bones
the way fledglings do just before they fly,
and the soft pine cracked . . .

I would not have heard his cry
if my electric saw had been working,
its carbide teeth speeding through the bland spruce of our 
time, or
burning
black arcs into some scavenged hemlock plank,
like dark circles under eyes
when the brain thinks too close to the skin,
but I was sawing by hand and I heard that cry
as though he were attacked; we ran out,
when we bent over him he said, "Galway, In¨¦s, I saw a 
pond!"
His face went gray, his eyes fluttered close a frightening
moment . . .

Yes - a pond
that lets off its mist
on clear afternoons of August, in that valley
to which many have come, for their reasons,
from which many have gone, a few for their reasons, most 
not,
where even now and old fisherman only the pinetops can see
sits in the dry gray wood of his rowboat, waiting for pickerel.


by Galway Kinnell |

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

 For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music 
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper 
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing 
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run - as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears - in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small 
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder 
about the mental capacity of baseball players - 
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child. 

In the half darkness we look at each other 
and smile 
and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body - 
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, 
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, 
this blessing love gives again into our arms.


by Galway Kinnell |

Two Seasons

1 
The stars were wild that summer evening 
As on the low lake shore stood you and I 
And every time I caught your flashing eye 
Or heard your voice discourse on anything 
It seemed a star went burning down the sky. 

I looked into your heart that dying summer 
And found your silent woman's heart grown wild 
Whereupon you turned to me and smiled 
Saying you felt afraid but that you were 
Weary of being mute and undefiled 

2 
I spoke to you that last winter morning 
Watching the wind smoke snow across the ice 
Told of how the beauty of your spirit, flesh, 
And smile had made day break at night and spring 
Burst beauty in the wasting winter's place. 

You did not answer when I spoke, but stood 
As if that wistful part of you, your sorrow, 
Were blown about in fitful winds below; 
Your eyes replied your worn heart wished it could 
Again be white and silent as the snow.