Galway Kinnell |
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
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,
with sudden, tiny, white puffs and long, black, rubberish smears
all its tires know the home ground.
Galway Kinnell |
I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge,
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,
and unsual willingness to disintigrate, oatmeal should
not be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat
it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had
enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
"Ode to a Nightingale.
He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad
a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his
but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the stanzas,
and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they
made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if
they got it right.
An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket
through a hole in his pocket.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,
and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up
and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about
the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some
stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal
When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn.
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words
lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if there
is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field go thim started
on it, and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed their
clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,"
came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneaously
gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to invite Patrick Kavanagh
to join me.
Galway Kinnell |
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.
Galway Kinnell |
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.
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.
Galway Kinnell |
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.
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.
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.
Galway Kinnell |
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
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
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.
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 go on running.
On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
perhaps the first taint of me as he
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,
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.
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,
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
And I lie still.
I awaken I think.
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue.
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the rest of my days I spend
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that
poetry, by which I lived?
from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).
Galway Kinnell |
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
the cedars around the shore, I'd sometimes hear the slow
of his work, he's gone,
where Milton Norway came up behind me while I was
stood awhile before I knew he was there, he's the one who
cedar shingles on the house, some have curled or split, a
blown off, he's gone,
where Gus Newland logged in the cold snap of '58, the only
ing to go into those woods that never got warmer than ten
pond where two wards of the state wandered on Halloween,
tional Guard searched for them in November, in vain, the
next fall a
hunter found their skeletons huddled together, in vain,
pond where an old fisherman in a rowboat sits, drowning
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
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
His face went gray, his eyes fluttered close a frightening
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
where even now and old fisherman only the pinetops can see
sits in the dry gray wood of his rowboat, waiting for pickerel.
Galway Kinnell |
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
as if clinging could save us.
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
my broken arms heal themselves around you.
I have heard you tell
the sun, don't go down, I have stood by
as you told the flower, don't grow old,
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,
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:
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.
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
your one word, caca! caca! caca!
and each spoonful
stopped, a moment, in midair, in its withering
you cling because
I, like you, only sooner
than you, will go down
the path of vanished alphabets,
to the other side of the darkness,
like the shoes left behind,
like the adjectives in the halting speech
of old men,
which once could call up the lost nouns.
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.
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
one day all this will only be memory,
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.
which tells you, here,
here is the world.
These temple bones.
The still undanced cadence of vanishing.
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.
Back you go, into your crib.
The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
Your eyes close inside your head,
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.
Galway Kinnell |
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours.
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands.
And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don't go too early.
But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Galway Kinnell |
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 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.
Galway Kinnell |
At intermission I find her backstage
still practicing the piece coming up next.
She calls it the "solo in high dreary.
Her bow niggles at the string like a hand
stroking skin it never wanted to touch.
Probably under her scorn she is sick
that she can't do better by it.
As I am,
at the dreary in me, such as the disparity
between all the tenderness I've received
and the amount I've given, and the way
I used to shrug off the imbalance
simply as how things are, as if the male
were constituted like those coffeemakers
that produce less black bitter than the quantity
of sweet clear you poured in--forgetting about
how much I spilled through unsteady walking,
and that lot I threw on the ground
in suspicion, and for fear I wasn't worthy,
and all I poured out for reasons I don't understand yet.
"Break a leg!" somebody tells her.
Back in my seat, I can see she is nervous
when she comes out; her hand shakes as she
re-dog-ears the top corners of the big pages
that look about to flop over on their own.
Now she raises the bow--its flat bundle of hair
harvested from the rear ends of horses--like a whetted
scimitar she is about to draw across a throat,
In a back alley a cat opens
her pink-ceilinged mouth, gets netted
in full yowl, clubbed, bagged, bicycled off, haggled open,
gutted, the gut squeezed down to its highest pitch,
washed, sliced into cello strings, which bring
an ancient screaming into this duet of hair and gut.
Now she is flying--tossing back the goblets
of Saint-Amour standing empty,
half-empty, or full on the tablecloth-
like sheet music.
Her knees tighten
and loosen around the big-hipped creature
wailing and groaning between them
as if in elemental amplexus.
The music seems to rise from the crater left
when heaven was torn up and taken off the earth;
more likely it comes up through her priest's dress,
up from that clump of hair which by now
may be so wet with its waters, like the waters
the fishes multiplied in at Galilee, that
each wick draws a portion all the way out
to its tip and fattens a droplet on the bush
of half notes now glittering in that dark.
At last she lifts off the bow and sits back.
Her face shines with the unselfconsciousness of a cat
screaming at night and the teary radiance of one
who gives everything no matter what has been given.
Galway Kinnell |
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
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.
Galway Kinnell |
I move my hand over
slopes, falls, lumps of sight,
Lashes barely able to be touched,
Lips that give way so easily
it's a shock to feel underneath them
The bones smile.
Muffled a little, barely cloaked,
Zygoma, maxillary, turbinate.
I put my hand
On the side of your face,
You lean your head a little
Into my hand--and so,
I know you're a dormouse
Taken up in winter sleep,
A lonely, stunned weight.
A curved piece of brow,
A pale eyelid
Float in the dark,
And now I make out
An eye, dark,
Wormed with far-off, unaccountable lights.
Hardly touching, I hold
What I can only think of
As some deepest of memories in my arms,
Not mine, but as if the life in me
Were slowly remembering what it is.
You lie here now in your physicalness,
This beautiful degree of reality.
And now the day, raft that breaks up, comes on.
I think of a few bones
Floating on a river at night,
The starlight blowing in a place on the water,
The river leaning like a wave towards the emptiness.
Galway Kinnell |
-- for Jane kenyon
It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters;
small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower
visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go
to the open door and look across at New Hampshire
and see that there, too, the sun is bright
and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon;
and I think: How could it not have been today?
In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing
the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly,
as if in the past, to those who once sat
in the steel seat of the old mowing machine,
cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper,
and drew the cutter bars little
reciprocating triangles through the grass
to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning
and found yourself grown completely tired
of the successes and failures of medicine,
of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly
now and then by hope that had that leaden taste?
Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it
and see that, now, it was not wrong to die
and that, on dying, you would leave
your beloved in a day like paradise?
Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little?
How could you not already have felt blessed for good,
having these last days spoken your whole heart to him,
who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence
he would not feel a single word was missing?
How could you not have slipped into a spell,
in full daylight, as he lay next to you,
with his arms around you, as they have been,
it must have seemed, all your life?
How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek,
which presses itself to yours from now on?
How could you not rise and go, with all that light
at the window, those arms around you, and the sound,
coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine
plane in the distance that no one else hears?
Galway Kinnell |
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
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.