Anne Sexton |
Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce:
the courtroom a cement box,
a gas chamber for the infectious Jew in me
and a perhaps land, a possibly promised land
for the Jew in me,
but still a betrayal room for the till-death-do-us—
and yet a death, as in the unlocking of scissors
that makes the now separate parts useless,
even to cut each other up as we did yearly
under the crayoned-in sun.
The courtroom keeps squashing our lives as they break
into two cans ready for recycling,
flattened tin humans
and a tin law,
even for my twenty-five years of hanging on
by my teeth as I once saw at Ringling Brothers.
The gray room:
Judge, lawyer, witness
and me and invisible Skeezix,
and all the other torn
enduring the bewilderments
of their division.
Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce.
They arrive like round yellow fish,
sucking with love at the coral of our love.
Yet they wait,
in their short time,
like little utero half-borns,
half killed, thin and bone soft.
They breathe the air that stands
for twenty-five illicit days,
the sun crawling inside the sheets,
the moon spinning like a tornado
in the washbowl,
and we orchestrated them both,
calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.
There was a song, our song on your cassette,
that played over and over
and baptised the prodigals.
It spoke the unspeakable,
as the rain will on an attic roof,
letting the animal join its soul
as we kneeled before a miracle--
forgetting its knife.
The daisies confer
in the old-married kitchen
papered with blue and green chefs
who call out pies, cookies, yummy,
at the charcoal and cigarette smoke
they wear like a yellowy salve.
The daisies absorb it all--
the twenty-five-year-old sanctioned love
(If one could call such handfuls of fists
and immobile arms that!)
and on this day my world rips itself up
while the country unfastens along
with its perjuring king and his court.
It unfastens into an abortion of belief,
as in me--
the legal rift--
as on might do with the daisies
but does not
for they stand for a love
undergoihng open heart surgery
that might take
if one prayed tough enough.
And yet I demand,
even in prayer,
that I am not a thief,
a mugger of need,
and that your heart survive
on its own,
belonging only to itself,
whole, entirely whole,
in its dark cavern under your ribs.
I pray it will know truth,
if truth catches in its cup
and yet I pray, as a child would,
that the surgery take.
I dream it is taking.
Next I dream the love is swallowing itself.
Next I dream the love is made of glass,
glass coming through the telephone
that is breaking slowly,
day by day, into my ear.
Next I dream that I put on the love
like a lifejacket and we float,
jacket and I,
we bounce on that priest-blue.
We are as light as a cat's ear
and it is safe,
safe far too long!
And I awaken quickly and go to the opposite window
and peer down at the moon in the pond
and know that beauty has walked over my head,
into this bedroom and out,
flowing out through the window screen,
dropping deep into the water
I will observe the daisies
fade and dry up
wuntil they become flour,
snowing themselves onto the table
beside the drone of the refrigerator,
beside the radio playing Frankie
(as often as FM will allow)
snowing lightly, a tremor sinking from the ceiling--
as twenty-five years split from my side
like a growth that I sliced off like a melanoma.
It is six P.
as I water these tiny weeds
and their little half-life,
their numbered days
that raged like a secret radio,
recalling love that I picked up innocently,
as my five-year-old daughter
picked gum off the sidewalk
and it became suddenly an elastic miracle.
For me it was love found
like a diamond
where carrots grow--
the glint of diamond on a plane wing,
meaning: DANGER! THICK ICE!
but the good crunch of that orange,
the diamond, the carrot,
both with four million years of resurrecting dirt,
and the love,
although Adam did not know the word,
the love of Adam
obeying his sudden gift.
You, who sought me for nine years,
in stories made up in front of your naked mirror
or walking through rooms of fog women,
you trying to forget the mother
who built guilt with the lumber of a locked door
as she sobbed her soured mild and fed you loss
through the keyhole,
you who wrote out your own birth
and built it with your own poems,
your own lumber, your own keyhole,
into the trunk and leaves of your manhood,
you, who fell into my words, years
before you fell into me (the other,
both the Camp Director and the camper),
you who baited your hook with wide-awake dreams,
and calls and letters and once a luncheon,
and twice a reading by me for you.
But I wouldn't!
Yet this year,
yanking off all past years,
I took the bait
and was pulled upward, upward,
into the sky and was held by the sun--
the quick wonder of its yellow lap--
and became a woman who learned her own shin
and dug into her soul and found it full,
and you became a man who learned his won skin
and dug into his manhood, his humanhood
and found you were as real as a baker
or a seer
and we became a home,
up into the elbows of each other's soul,
an invisible purchase--
that inhabits our house forever.
blessed by the House-Die
by the altar of the color T.
and somehow managed to make a tiny marriage,
a tiny marriage
as in the child's belief in the tooth fairy,
so close to absolute,
so daft within a year or two.
The daisies have come
for the last time.
And I who have,
each year of my life,
spoken to the tooth fairy,
believing in her,
even when I was her,
am helpless to stop your daisies from dying,
although your voice cries into the telephone:
Marry me! Marry me!
and my voice speaks onto these keys tonight:
The love is in dark trouble!
The love is starting to die,
we are in the process of it.
The empty process of it.
I see two deaths,
and the two men plod toward the mortuary of my heart,
and though I willed one away in court today
and I whisper dreams and birthdays into the other,
they both die like waves breaking over me
and I am drowning a little,
but always swimming
among the pillows and stones of the breakwater.
And though your daisies are an unwanted death,
I wade through the smell of their cancer
and recognize the prognosis,
its cartful of loss--
I say now,
you gave what you could.
It was quite a ferris wheel to spin on!
and the dead city of my marriage
seems less important
than the fact that the daisies came weekly,
over and over,
likes kisses that can't stop themselves.
There sit two deaths on November 5th, 1973.
Let one be forgotten--
Bury it! Wall it up!
But let me not forget the man
of my child-like flowers
though he sinks into the fog of Lake Superior,
he remains, his fingers the marvel
of fourth of July sparklers,
his furious ice cream cones of licking,
remains to cool my forehead with a washcloth
when I sweat into the bathtub of his being.
For the rest that is left:
name it gentle,
as gentle as radishes inhabiting
their short life in the earth,
name it gentle,
gentle as old friends waving so long at the window,
or in the drive,
name it gentle as maple wings singing
themselves upon the pond outside,
as sensuous as the mother-yellow in the pond,
that night that it was ours,
when our bodies floated and bumped
in moon water and the cicadas
called out like tongues.
Let such as this
be resurrected in all men
whenever they mold their days and nights
as when for twenty-five days and nights you molded mine
and planted the seed that dives into my God
and will do so forever
no matter how often I sweep the floor.
Allen Ginsberg |
At gauzy dusk, thin haze like cigarette smoke
ribbons past Chrysler Building's silver fins
tapering delicately needletopped, Empire State's
taller antenna filmed milky lit amid blocks
black and white apartmenting veil'd sky over Manhattan,
offices new built dark glassed in blueish heaven--The East
50's & 60's covered with castles & watertowers, seven storied
tar-topped house-banks over York Avenue, late may-green trees
surrounding Rockefellers' blue domed medical arbor--
Geodesic science at the waters edge--Cars running up
East River Drive, & parked at N.
Hospital's oval door
where perfect tulips flower the health of a thousand sick souls
trembling inside hospital rooms.
Triboro bridge steel-spiked
penthouse orange roofs, sunset tinges the river and in a few
Bronx windows, some magnesium vapor brilliances're
spotted five floors above E 59th St under grey painted bridge
Way downstream along the river, as Monet saw Thames
100 years ago, Con Edison smokestacks 14th street,
& Brooklyn Bridge's skeined dim in modern mists--
Pipes sticking up to sky nine smokestacks huge visible--
Building hangs under an orange crane, & red lights on
vertical avenues below the trees turn green at the nod
of a skull with a mild nerve ache.
Dim dharma, I return
to this spectacle after weeks of poisoned lassitude, my thighs
belly chest & arms covered with poxied welts,
head pains fading back of the neck, right eyebrow cheek
mouth paralyzed--from taking the wrong medicine, sweated
too much in the forehead helpless, covered my rage from
gorge to prostate with grinding jaw and tightening anus
not released the weeping scream of horror at robot Mayaguez
World self ton billions metal grief unloaded
Pnom Penh to Nakon Thanom, Santiago & Tehran.
Fresh warm breeze in the window, day's release
>from pain, cars float downside the bridge trestle
and uncounted building-wall windows multiplied a mile
deep into ash-delicate sky beguile
my empty mind.
A seagull passes alone wings
spread silent over roofs.
- May 20, 1975 Mayaguez Crisis
Nazim Hikmet |
it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird
I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it
I've never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love
and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
and will be said after me
I didn't know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again
I didn't know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
"the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves.
they call me The Knife.
lover like a young tree.
I blow stately mansions sky-high"
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief
to a pine bough for luck
I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera's behind the wheel we're driving from Moscow to the Crimea
formerly "Goktepé ili" in Turkish
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn't have anything in the wagon they could take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I've written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I'm going to the shadow play
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather's hand
his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
with a sable collar over his robe
and there's a lantern in the servant's hand
and I can't contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn't know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison
I just remembered the stars
I love them too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side
I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don't
be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract
well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to
say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos
snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind
I didn't know I liked snow
I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors
but you aren't about to paint it that way
I didn't know I loved the sea
except the Sea of Azov
or how much
I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts
moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois
I like it
I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
and takes off for uncharted countries I didn't know I loved
rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue
the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return
19 April 1962
Charles Bukowski |
George was lying in his trailer, flat on his back, watching a small portable T.
dinner dishes were undone, his breakfast dishes were undone, he needed a shave, and ash
from his rolled cigarettes dropped onto his undershirt.
Some of the ash was still burning.
Sometimes the burning ash missed the undershirt and hit his skin, then he cursed, brushing
There was a knock on the trailer door.
He got slowly to his feet and answered the
It was Constance.
She had a fifth of unopened whiskey in a bag.
"George, I left that son of a *****, I couldn't stand that son of a *****
George opened the fifth, got two glasses, filled each a third with whiskey, two thirds
He sat down on the bed with Constance.
She took a cigarette out of her purse
and lit it.
She was drunk and her hands trembled.
"I took his damn money too.
I took his damn money and split while he was at work.
You don't know how I've suffered with that son of a *****.
Lemme have a smoke," said George.
She handed it to him and as she leaned near,
George put his arm around her, pulled her over and kissed her.
"You son of a *****," she said, "I missed you.
"I miss those good legs of yours , Connie.
I've really missed those good
"You still like 'em?"
"I get hot just looking.
"I could never make it with a college guy," said Connie.
soft, they're milktoast.
And he kept his house clean.
George , it was like having a maid.
He did it all.
The place was spotless.
You could eat beef stew right off the crapper.
was antisceptic, that's what he was.
"Drink up, you'll feel better.
"And he couldn't make love.
"You mean he couldn't get it up?"
"Oh he got it up, he got it up all the time.
But he didn't know how to make a
woman happy, you know.
He didn't know what to do.
All that money, all that education, he
"I wish I had a college education.
"You don't need one.
You have everything you need, George.
"I'm just a flunkey.
All the **** jobs.
"I said you have everything you need, George.
You know how to make a woman
And you know what else? His mother came around! His mother! Two or three
times a week.
And she'd sit there looking at me, pretending to like me but all the time
she was treating me like I was a whore.
Like I was a big bad whore stealing her son away
from her! Her precious Wallace! Christ! What a mess!" "He claimed he loved me.
And I'd say, 'Look at my pussy, Walter!' And he wouldn't look at my pussy.
He said, 'I
don't want to look at that thing.
' That thing! That's what he called it! You're not afraid
of my pussy, are you, George?"
"It's never bit me yet.
" "But you've bit it, you've nibbled it, haven't
"I suppose I have.
"And you've licked it , sucked it?"
"I suppose so.
"You know damn well, George, what you've done.
"How much money did you get?"
"Six hundred dollars.
"I don't like people who rob other people, Connie.
"That's why you're a fucking dishwasher.
But he's such an ***,
And he can afford the money, and I've earned it.
him and his mother and his
love, his mother-love, his clean l;ittle wash bowls and toilets and disposal bags and
breath chasers and after shave lotions and his little hard-ons and his precious
All for himself, you understand, all for himself! You know what a woman
"Thanks for the whiskey, Connie.
Lemme have another cigarette.
George filled them up again.
"I missed your legs, Connie.
I've really missed those
I like the way you wear those high heels.
They drive me crazy.
These modern women
don't know what they're missing.
The high heel shapes the calf, the thigh, the ***; it
puts rythm into the walk.
It really turns me on!"
"You talk like a poet, George.
Sometimes you talk like that.
You are one hell of a
"You know what I'd really like to do?"
"I'd like to whip you with my belt on the legs, the ***, the thighs.
I'd like to
make you quiver and cry and then when you're quivering and crying I'd slam it into you
"I don't want that, George.
You've never talked like that to me before.
always done right with me.
"Pull your dress up higher.
"Pull your dress up higher, I want to see more of your legs.
"You like my legs, don't you, George?"
"Let the light shine on them!"
Constance hiked her dress.
"God christ ****," said George.
"You like my legs?"
"I love your legs!" Then george reached across the bed and slapped Constance
hard across the face.
Her cigarette flipped out of her mouth.
"what'd you do that for?"
"You fucked Walter! You fucked Walter!"
"So what the hell?"
"So pull your dress up higher!"
"Do what I say!" George slapped again, harder.
Constance hiked her skirt.
"Just up to the panties!" shouted George.
"I don't quite want to see the
"Christ, george, what's gone wrong with you?"
"You fucked Walter!"
"George, I swear, you've gone crazy.
I want to leave.
Let me out of here,
"Don't move or I'll kill you!"
"You'd kill me?"
"I swear it!" George got up and poured himself a shot of straight whiskey,
drank it, and sat down next to Constance.
He took the cigarette and held it against her
HE held it there, firmly, then pulled it away.
"I'm a man , baby, understand that?"
"I know you're a man , George.
"Here, look at my muscles!" george sat up and flexed both of his arms.
"Beautiful, eh ,baby? Look at that muscle! Feel it! Feel it!"
Constance felt one of the arms, then the other.
"Yes, you have a beautiful body, George.
"I'm a man.
I'm a dishwasher but I'm a man, a real man.
"I know it, George.
" "I'm not the milkshit you left.
"I know it.
"And I can sing, too.
You ought to hear my voice.
Constance sat there.
George began to sing.
He sang "Old man River.
" Then he
sang "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.
" He sang "The St.
" He sasng "God Bless America," stopping several times and laughing.
Then he sat down next to Constance.
He said, "Connie, you have beautiful legs.
He asked for another cigarette.
He smoked it, drank two more drinks, then put his head
down on Connie's legs, against the stockings, in her lap, and he said, "Connie, I
guess I'm no good, I guess I'm crazy, I'm sorry I hit you, I'm sorry I burned you with
Constance sat there.
She ran her fingers through George's hair, stroking him, soothing
Soon he was asleep.
She waited a while longer.
Then she lifted his head and placed it
on the pillow, lifted his legs and straightened them out on the bed.
She stood up, walked
to the fifth, poured a jolt of good whiskey in to her glass, added a touch of water and
drank it sown.
She walked to the trailer door, pulled it open, stepped out, closed it.
walked through the backyard, opened the fence gate, walked up the alley under the one
The sky was clear of clouds.
The same skyful of clouds was up there.
out on the boulevard and walked east and reached the entrance of The Blue Mirror.
walked in, and there was Walter sitting alone and drunk at the end of the bar.
up and sat down next to him.
"Missed me, baby?" she asked.
Walter looked up.
He didn't answer.
He looked at the bartender and the bartender walked
toward them They all knew eachother.
Lisa Zaran |
It is later than late,
the simmered down darkness
of the jukebox hour.
The hour of drunkenness
The fools hour.
In my dreams,
I still smoke, cigarette after cigarette.
It's okay, I'm dreaming.
In dreams, smoking can't kill me.
It's warm outside.
I have every window open.
There's no such thing as danger,
only the dangerous face of beauty.
I am hanging at my window
like a houseplant.
I am smoking a cigarette.
I am having a drink.
The pale, blue moon is shining.
The savage stars appear.
Every fool that passes by
smiles up at me.
I drip ashes on them.
There is music playing from somewhere.
A thready, salt-sweet tune I don't know
any of the words to.
There's a gentle breeze making
hopscotch with my hair.
This is the wet blanket air of midnight.
This is the incremental hour.
This is the plastic placemat of time
between reality and make-believe.
This is tabletop dream time.
This is that faint stain on your mattress,
the one you'll discover come morning,
and wonder how.
This is the monumental moment.
The essential: look at me now.
This is the hour.
Isn't it lovely? Wake up the stars!
Isn't it fabulous? Kiss the moon!
Where is the clock? The one that
always runs ahead.
that always tries to crush me with
Originally published in Literati Magazine, Winter 2005.
Copyright © Lisa Zaran 2005
Marilyn Hacker |
It is the boy in me who's looking out
the window, while someone across the street
mends a pillowcase, clouds shift, the gutter spout
pours rain, someone else lights a cigarette?
(Because he flinched, because he didn't whirl
around, face them, because he didn't hurl
the challenge back—"Fascists?"—not "Faggots"—Swine!
he briefly wonders—if he were a girl .
He writes a line.
He crosses out a line.
I'll never be a man, but there's a boy
crossing out words: the rain, the linen-mender,
are all the homework he will do today.
The absence and the priviledge of gender
confound in him, soprano, clumsy, frail.
Not neuter—neutral human, and unmarked,
the younger brother in the fairy tale
except, boys shouted "Jew!" across the park
at him when he was coming home from school.
The book that he just read, about the war,
the partisans, is less a terrible
and thrilling story, more a warning, more
a code, and he must puzzle out the code.
He has short hair, a red sweatshirt.
something about him—that he should be proud
of? That's shameful if it shows?
That got you killed in 1942.
In his story, do the partisans
have sons? Have grandparents? Is he a Jew
more than he is a boy, who'll be a man
someday? Someone who'll never be a man
looks out the window at the rain he thought
He reads the sentence he began.
He writes down something that he crosses out.
Robert Pinsky |
Dire one and desired one,
In an old allegory you would carry
A chained alphabet of tokens:
Ankh Badge Cross.
Engraved figure guarding a hallowed intaglio,
Jasper kinema of legendary Mind,
Naked omphalos pierced
By quills of rhyme or sense, torah-like: unborn
Vein of will, xenophile
Yearning out of Zero.
Untrusting I court you.
I seek your face, I read
That Crusoe's knife
Reeked of you, that to defile you
The soldier makes the rabbi spit on the torah.
"I'll drown my book" says Shakespeare.
Drowned walker, revenant.
After my mother fell on her head, she became
More than ever your sworn enemy.
Sometimes like a poet or critic of forty years later.
Or she spoke of the world as Thersites spoke of the heroes,
"I think they have swallowed one another.
Would laugh at that miracle.
You also in the laughter, warrior angel:
Your helmet the zodiac, rocket-plumed
Your spear the beggar's finger pointing to the mouth
Your heel planted on the serpent Formulation
Your face a vapor, the wreath of cigarette smoke crowning
Bogart as he winces through it.
You not in the words, not even
Between the words, but a torsion,
A cleavage, a stirring.
You stirring even in the arctic ice,
Even at the dark ocean floor, even
In the cellular flesh of a stone.
My poker friends
Question your presence
In a poem by me, passing the magazine
One to another.
Not the stone and not the words, you
Like a veil over Arthur's headstone,
The passage from Proverbs he chose
While he was too ill to teach
And still well enough to read, I was
Beside the master craftsman
Delighting him day after day, ever
At play in his presence--you
A soothing veil of distraction playing over
Dying Arthur playing in the hospital,
Thumbing the Bible, fuzzy from medication,
Ever courting your presence,
And you the prognosis,
You in the cough.
Gesturer, when is your spur, your cloud?
You in the airport rituals of greeting and parting.
Indicter, who is your claimant?
Bell at the gate.
Spiderweb iron bridge.
Cloak, video, aroma, rue, what is your
Elected silence, where was your seed?
What is Imagination
But your lost child born to give birth to you?
Or presence ever at play:
Let those scorn you who never
Starved in your dearth.
Dare to disparage
Your harp of shadows I taste
Wormwood and motor oil, I pour
Ashes on my head.
You are the wound.
Be the medicine.
Paul Eluard |
Rolls a cigarette of air
The mute girl talks:
It is art's imperfection.
This impenetrable speech.
The motor car is truly launched:
Four martyrs' heads
Roll under the wheels.
Ah! a thousand flames, a fire,
The light, a shadow!
The sun is following me.
A feather gives to a hat
A touch of lightness:
The chimney smokes.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti |
It was a face which darkness could kill
in an instant
a face as easily hurt
by laughter or light
'We think differently at night'
she told me once
lying back languidly
And she would quote Cocteau
'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
'whom I am constantly shocking'
Then she would smile and look away
light a cigarette for me
sigh and rise
her sweet anatomy
let fall a stocking
Robert Frost |
“OH, let’s go up the hill and scare ourselves,
As reckless as the best of them to-night,
By setting fire to all the brush we piled
With pitchy hands to wait for rain or snow.
Oh, let’s not wait for rain to make it safe.
The pile is ours: we dragged it bough on bough
Down dark converging paths between the pines.
Let’s not care what we do with it to-night.
Divide it? No! But burn it as one pile
The way we piled it.
And let’s be the talk
Of people brought to windows by a light
Thrown from somewhere against their wall-paper.
Rouse them all, both the free and not so free
With saying what they’d like to do to us
For what they’d better wait till we have done.
Let’s all but bring to life this old volcano,
If that is what the mountain ever was—
And scare ourselves.
Let wild fire loose we will….
“And scare you too?” the children said together.
“Why wouldn’t it scare me to have a fire
Begin in smudge with ropy smoke and know
That still, if I repent, I may recall it,
But in a moment not: a little spurt
Of burning fatness, and then nothing but
The fire itself can put it out, and that
By burning out, and before it burns out
It will have roared first and mixed sparks with stars,
And sweeping round it with a flaming sword,
Made the dim trees stand back in wider circle—
Done so much and I know not how much more
I mean it shall not do if I can bind it.
Well if it doesn’t with its draft bring on
A wind to blow in earnest from some quarter,
As once it did with me upon an April.
The breezes were so spent with winter blowing
They seemed to fail the bluebirds under them
Short of the perch their languid flight was toward;
And my flame made a pinnacle to heaven
As I walked once round it in possession.
But the wind out of doors—you know the saying.
There came a gust.
You used to think the trees
Made wind by fanning since you never knew
It blow but that you saw the trees in motion.
Something or someone watching made that gust.
It put the flame tip-down and dabbed the grass
Of over-winter with the least tip-touch
Your tongue gives salt or sugar in your hand.
The place it reached to blackened instantly.
The black was all there was by day-light,
That and the merest curl of cigarette smoke—
And a flame slender as the hepaticas,
Blood-root, and violets so soon to be now.
But the black spread like black death on the ground,
And I think the sky darkened with a cloud
Like winter and evening coming on together.
There were enough things to be thought of then.
Where the field stretches toward the north
And setting sun to Hyla brook, I gave it
To flames without twice thinking, where it verges
Upon the road, to flames too, though in fear
They might find fuel there, in withered brake,
Grass its full length, old silver golden-rod,
And alder and grape vine entanglement,
To leap the dusty deadline.
For my own
I took what front there was beside.
And thrust hands in and held my face away.
Fight such a fire by rubbing not by beating.
A board is the best weapon if you have it.
I had my coat.
And oh, I knew, I knew,
And said out loud, I couldn’t bide the smother
And heat so close in; but the thought of all
The woods and town on fire by me, and all
The town turned out to fight for me—that held me.
I trusted the brook barrier, but feared
The road would fail; and on that side the fire
Died not without a noise of crackling wood—
Of something more than tinder-grass and weed—
That brought me to my feet to hold it back
By leaning back myself, as if the reins
Were round my neck and I was at the plough.
I won! But I’m sure no one ever spread
Another color over a tenth the space
That I spread coal-black over in the time
It took me.
Neighbors coming home from town
Couldn’t believe that so much black had come there
While they had backs turned, that it hadn’t been there
When they had passed an hour or so before
Going the other way and they not seen it.
They looked about for someone to have done it.
But there was no one.
I was somewhere wondering
Where all my weariness had gone and why
I walked so light on air in heavy shoes
In spite of a scorched Fourth-of-July feeling.
Why wouldn’t I be scared remembering that?”
“If it scares you, what will it do to us?”
But if you shrink from being scared,
What would you say to war if it should come?
That’s what for reasons I should like to know—
If you can comfort me by any answer.
“Oh, but war’s not for children—it’s for men.
“Now we are digging almost down to China.
My dears, my dears, you thought that—we all thought it.
So your mistake was ours.
Haven’t you heard, though,
About the ships where war has found them out
At sea, about the towns where war has come
Through opening clouds at night with droning speed
Further o’erhead than all but stars and angels,—
And children in the ships and in the towns?
Haven’t you heard what we have lived to learn?
Nothing so new—something we had forgotten:
War is for everyone, for children too.
I wasn’t going to tell you and I mustn’t.
The best way is to come up hill with me
And have our fire and laugh and be afraid.