Edna St Vincent Millay |
Aye, but she?
Your other sister and my other soul
Grave Silence, lovelier
Than the three loveliest maidens, what of her?
Clio, not you,
Not you, Calliope,
Nor all your wanton line,
Not Beauty's perfect self shall comfort me
For Silence once departed,
For her the cool-tongued, her the tranquil-hearted,
Whom evermore I follow wistfully,
Wandering Heaven and Earth and Hell and the four seasons through;
Thalia, not you,
Not you, Melpomene,
Not your incomparable feet, O thin Terpsichore, I seek in this great hall,
But one more pale, more pensive, most beloved of you all.
I seek her from afar,
I come from temples where her altars are,
From groves that bear her name,
Noisy with stricken victims now and sacrificial flame,
And cymbals struck on high and strident faces
Obstreperous in her praise
They neither love nor know,
A goddess of gone days,
Departed long ago,
Abandoning the invaded shrines and fanes
Of her old sanctuary,
A deity obscure and legendary,
Of whom there now remains,
For sages to decipher and priests to garble,
Only and for a little while her letters wedged in marble,
Which even now, behold, the friendly mumbling rain erases,
And the inarticulate snow,
Leaving at last of her least signs and traces
None whatsoever, nor whither she is vanished from these places.
"She will love well," I said,
"If love be of that heart inhabiter,
The flowers of the dead;
The red anemone that with no sound
Moves in the wind, and from another wound
That sprang, the heavily-sweet blue hyacinth,
That blossoms underground,
And sallow poppies, will be dear to her.
And will not Silence know
In the black shade of what obsidian steep
Stiffens the white narcissus numb with sleep?
(Seed which Demeter's daughter bore from home,
Uptorn by desperate fingers long ago,
Reluctant even as she,
And even as she set out again to grow
In twilight, in perdition's lean and inauspicious loam).
She will love well," I said,
"The flowers of the dead;
Where dark Persephone the winter round,
Uncomforted for home, uncomforted,
Lacking a sunny southern slope in northern Sicily,
With sullen pupils focussed on a dream,
Stares on the stagnant stream
That moats the unequivocable battlements of Hell,
There, there will she be found,
She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound.
"I long for Silence as they long for breath
Whose helpless nostrils drink the bitter sea;
What thing can be
So stout, what so redoubtable, in Death
What fury, what considerable rage, if only she,
Upon whose icy breast,
One time I lay,
And whom always I lack,
Even to this day,
Being by no means from that frigid bosom weaned away,
If only she therewith be given me back?"
I sought her down that dolorous labyrinth,
Wherein no shaft of sunlight ever fell,
And in among the bloodless everywhere
I sought her, but the air,
Breathed many times and spent,
Was fretful with a whispering discontent,
And questioning me, importuning me to tell
Some slightest tidings of the light of day they know no more,
Plucking my sleeve, the eager shades were with me where I went.
I paused at every grievous door,
And harked a moment, holding up my hand,—and for a space
A hush was on them, while they watched my face;
And then they fell a-whispering as before;
So that I smiled at them and left them, seeing she was not there.
I sought her, too,
Among the upper gods, although I knew
She was not like to be where feasting is,
Nor near to Heaven's lord,
Being a thing abhorred
And shunned of him, although a child of his,
(Not yours, not yours; to you she owes not breath,
Mother of Song, being sown of Zeus upon a dream of Death).
Fearing to pass unvisited some place
And later learn, too late, how all the while,
With her still face,
She had been standing there and seen me pass, without a smile,
I sought her even to the sagging board whereat
The stout immortals sat;
But such a laughter shook the mighty hall
No one could hear me say:
Had she been seen upon the Hill that day?
And no one knew at all
How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away.
There is a garden lying in a lull
Between the mountains and the mountainous sea,
I know not where, but which a dream diurnal
Paints on my lids a moment till the hull
Be lifted from the kernel
And Slumber fed to me.
Your foot-print is not there, Mnemosene,
Though it would seem a ruined place and after
Your lichenous heart, being full
Of broken columns, caryatides
Thrown to the earth and fallen forward on their jointless knees,
And urns funereal altered into dust
Minuter than the ashes of the dead,
And Psyche's lamp out of the earth up-thrust,
Dripping itself in marble wax on what was once the bed
Of Love, and his young body asleep, but now is dust instead.
There twists the bitter-sweet, the white wisteria Fastens its fingers in the strangling wall,
And the wide crannies quicken with bright weeds;
There dumbly like a worm all day the still white orchid feeds;
But never an echo of your daughters' laughter
Is there, nor any sign of you at all
Swells fungous from the rotten bough, grey mother of Pieria!
Only her shadow once upon a stone
I saw,—and, lo, the shadow and the garden, too, were gone.
I tell you you have done her body an ill,
You chatterers, you noisy crew!
She is not anywhere!
I sought her in deep Hell;
And through the world as well;
I thought of Heaven and I sought her there;
Above nor under ground
Is Silence to be found,
That was the very warp and woof of you,
Lovely before your songs began and after they were through!
Oh, say if on this hill
Somewhere your sister's body lies in death,
So I may follow there, and make a wreath
Of my locked hands, that on her quiet breast
Shall lie till age has withered them!
(Ah, sweetly from the rest
Turn and consider me
"There is a gate beyond the gate of Death,
Beyond the gate of everlasting Life,
Beyond the gates of Heaven and Hell," she saith,
"Whereon but to believe is horror!
Whereon to meditate engendereth
Even in deathless spirits such as I
A tumult in the breath,
A chilling of the inexhaustible blood
Even in my veins that never will be dry,
And in the austere, divine monotony
That is my being, the madness of an unaccustomed mood.
This is her province whom you lack and seek;
And seek her not elsewhere.
Hell is a thoroughfare
And he that loved Euridice too well,
Have walked therein; and many more than these;
And witnessed the desire and the despair
Of souls that passed reluctantly and sicken for the air;
You, too, have entered Hell,
And issued thence; but thence whereof I speak
None has returned;—for thither fury brings
Only the driven ghosts of them that flee before all things.
Oblivion is the name of this abode: and she is there.
Oh, radiant Song! Oh, gracious Memory!
Be long upon this height
I shall not climb again!
I know the way you mean,—the little night,
And the long empty day,—never to see
Again the angry light,
Or hear the hungry noises cry my brain!
Ah, but she,
Your other sister and my other soul,
She shall again be mine;
And I shall drink her from a silver bowl,
A chilly thin green wine,
Not bitter to the taste,
Not of your press, oh, restless, clamorous nine,—
To foam beneath the frantic hoofs of mirth—
But savoring faintly of the acid earth,
And trod by pensive feet
From perfect clusters ripened without haste
Out of the urgent heat
In some clear glimmering vaulted twilight under the odorous vine
Lift up your lyres! Sing on!
But as for me, I seek your sister whither she is gone.
Robert Frost |
Her teacher's certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, "Maple—
Maple is right.
"But teacher told the school
There's no such name.
"Teachers don't know as much
As fathers about children, you tell teacher.
You tell her that it's M-A-P-L-E.
You ask her if she knows a maple tree.
Well, you were named after a maple tree.
Your mother named you.
You and she just saw
Each other in passing in the room upstairs,
One coming this way into life, and one
Going the other out of life—you know?
So you can't have much recollection of her.
She had been having a long look at you.
She put her finger in your cheek so hard
It must have made your dimple there, and said,
' I said it too: 'Yes, for her name.
So we're sure there's no mistake.
I don't know what she wanted it to mean,
But it seems like some word she left to bid you
Be a good girl—be like a maple tree.
How like a maple tree's for us to guess.
Or for a little girl to guess sometime.
Not now—at least I shouldn't try too hard now.
By and by I will tell you all I know
About the different trees, and something, too,
About your mother that perhaps may help.
Dangerous self-arousing words to sow.
Luckily all she wanted of her name then
Was to rebuke her teacher with it next day,
And give the teacher a scare as from her father.
Anything further had been wasted on her,
Or so he tried to think to avoid blame.
She would forget it.
She all but forgot it.
What he sowed with her slept so long a sleep,
And came so near death in the dark of years,
That when it woke and came to life again
The flower was different from the parent seed.
It carne back vaguely at the glass one day,
As she stood saying her name over aloud,
Striking it gently across her lowered eyes
To make it go well with the way she looked.
What was it about her name? Its strangeness lay
In having too much meaning.
As Lesley, Carol, Irma, Marjorie,
Rose could have a meaning,
But hadn't as it went.
(She knew a Rose.
This difference from other names it was
Made people notice it—and notice her.
(They either noticed it, or got it wrong.
Her problem was to find out what it asked
In dress or manner of the girl who bore it.
If she could form some notion of her mother—
What she bad thought was lovely, and what good.
This was her mother's childhood home;
The house one story high in front, three stories
On the end it presented to the road.
(The arrangement made a pleasant sunny cellar.
Her mother's bedroom was her father's still,
Where she could watch her mother's picture fading.
Once she found for a bookmark in the Bible
A maple leaf she thought must have been laid
In wait for her there.
She read every word
Of the two pages it was pressed between,
As if it was her mother speaking to her.
But forgot to put the leaf back in closing
And lost the place never to read again.
She was sure, though, there had been nothing in it.
So she looked for herself, as everyone
Looks for himself, more or less outwardly.
And her self-seeking, fitful though it was,
May still have been what led her on to read,
And think a little, and get some city schooling.
She learned shorthand, whatever shorthand may
Have had to do with it--she sometimes wondered.
So, till she found herself in a strange place
For the name Maple to have brought her to,
Taking dictation on a paper pad
And, in the pauses when she raised her eyes,
Watching out of a nineteenth story window
An airship laboring with unshiplike motion
And a vague all-disturbing roar above the river
Beyond the highest city built with hands.
Someone was saying in such natural tones
She almost wrote the words down on her knee,
"Do you know you remind me of a tree--
A maple tree?"
"Because my name is Maple?"
"Isn't it Mabel? I thought it was Mabel.
"No doubt you've heard the office call me Mabel.
I have to let them call me what they like.
They were both stirred that he should have divined
Without the name her personal mystery.
It made it seem as if there must be something
She must have missed herself.
So they were married,
And took the fancy home with them to live by.
They went on pilgrimage once to her father's
(The house one story high in front, three stories
On the side it presented to the road)
To see if there was not some special tree
She might have overlooked.
They could find none,
Not so much as a single tree for shade,
Let alone grove of trees for sugar orchard.
She told him of the bookmark maple leaf
In the big Bible, and all she remembered
of the place marked with it—"Wave offering,
Something about wave offering, it said.
"You've never asked your father outright, have you?"
"I have, and been Put off sometime, I think.
(This was her faded memory of the way
Once long ago her father had put himself off.
"Because no telling but it may have been
Something between your father and your mother
Not meant for us at all.
"Not meant for me?
Where would the fairness be in giving me
A name to carry for life and never know
The secret of?"
"And then it may have been
Something a father couldn't tell a daughter
As well as could a mother.
It may have been their one lapse into fancy
'Twould be too bad to make him sorry for
By bringing it up to him when be was too old.
Your father feels us round him with our questing,
And holds us off unnecessarily,
As if he didn't know what little thing
Might lead us on to a discovery.
It was as personal as be could be
About the way he saw it was with you
To say your mother, bad she lived, would be
As far again as from being born to bearing.
"Just one look more with what you say in mind,
And I give up"; which last look came to nothing.
But though they now gave up the search forever,
They clung to what one had seen in the other
It proved there was something.
They kept their thoughts away from when the maples
Stood uniform in buckets, and the steam
Of sap and snow rolled off the sugarhouse.
When they made her related to the maples,
It was the tree the autumn fire ran through
And swept of leathern leaves, but left the bark
Unscorched, unblackened, even, by any smoke.
They always took their holidays in autumn.
Once they came on a maple in a glade,
Standing alone with smooth arms lifted up,
And every leaf of foliage she'd worn
Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.
But its age kept them from considering this one.
Twenty-five years ago at Maple's naming
It hardly could have been a two-leaved seedling
The next cow might have licked up out at pasture.
Could it have been another maple like it?
They hovered for a moment near discovery,
Figurative enough to see the symbol,
But lacking faith in anything to mean
The same at different times to different people.
Perhaps a filial diffidence partly kept them
From thinking it could be a thing so bridal.
And anyway it came too late for Maple.
She used her hands to cover up her eyes.
"We would not see the secret if we could now:
We are not looking for it any more.
Thus had a name with meaning, given in death,
Made a girl's marriage, and ruled in her life.
No matter that the meaning was not clear.
A name with meaning could bring up a child,
Taking the child out of the parents' hands.
Better a meaningless name, I should say,
As leaving more to nature and happy chance.
Name children some names and see what you do.
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.
Mother Goose |
Higher than a house, higher than a tree.
Oh! whatever can that be?
Aleister Crowley |
" 10, 1911.
Full moon to-night; and six and twenty years
Since my full moon first broke from angel spheres!
A year of infinite love unwearying ---
No circling seasons, but perennial spring!
A year of triumph trampling through defeat,
The first made holy and the last made sweet
By this same love; a year of wealth and woe,
Joy, poverty, health, sickness --- all one glow
In the pure light that filled our firmament
Of supreme silence and unbarred extent,
Wherein one sacrament was ours, one Lord,
One resurrection, one recurrent chord,
One incarnation, one descending dove,
All these being one, and that one being Love!
You sent your spirit into tunes; my soul
Yearned in a thousand melodies to enscroll
Its happiness: I left no flower unplucked
That might have graced your garland.
Tragedy, comedy, farce, fable, song,
Each longing a little, each a little long,
But each aspiring only to express
Your excellence and my unworthiness ---
Nay! but my worthiness, since I was sense
And spirit too of that same excellence.
So thus we solved the earth's revolving riddle:
I could write verse, and you could play the fiddle,
While, as for love, the sun went through the signs,
And not a star but told him how love twines
A wreath for every decanate, degree,
Minute and second, linked eternally
In chains of flowers that never fading are,
Each one as sempiternal as a star.
Let me go back to your last birthday.
I was already your one man of men
Appointed to complete you, and fulfil
From everlasting the eternal will.
We lay within the flood of crimson light
In my own balcony that August night,
And conjuring the aright and the averse
Created yet another universe.
We worked together; dance and rite and spell
Arousing heaven and constraining hell.
We lived together; every hour of rest
Was honied from your tiger-lily breast.
We --- oh what lingering doubt or fear betrayed
My life to fate! --- we parted.
Was I afraid?
I was afraid, afraid to live my love,
Afraid you played the serpent, I the dove,
Afraid of what I know not.
I am glad
Of all the shame and wretchedness I had,
Since those six weeks have taught me not to doubt you,
And also that I cannot live without you.
Then I came back to you; black treasons rear
Their heads, blind hates, deaf agonies of fear,
Cruelty, cowardice, falsehood, broken pledges,
The temple soiled with senseless sacrileges,
Sickness and poverty, a thousand evils,
Concerted malice of a million devils; ---
You never swerved; your high-pooped galleon
Went marvellously, majestically on
Full-sailed, while every other braver bark
Drove on the rocks, or foundered in the dark.
Then Easter, and the days of all delight!
God's sun lit noontide and his moon midnight,
While above all, true centre of our world,
True source of light, our great love passion-pearled
Gave all its life and splendour to the sea
Above whose tides stood our stability.
Then sudden and fierce, no monitory moan,
Smote the mad mischief of the great cyclone.
How far below us all its fury rolled!
How vainly sulphur tries to tarnish gold!
We lived together: all its malice meant
Nothing but freedom of a continent!
It was the forest and the river that knew
The fact that one and one do not make two.
We worked, we walked, we slept, we were at ease,
We cried, we quarrelled; all the rocks and trees
For twenty miles could tell how lovers played,
And we could count a kiss for every glade.
Worry, starvation, illness and distress?
Each moment was a mine of happiness.
Then we grew tired of being country mice,
Came up to Paris, lived our sacrifice
There, giving holy berries to the moon,
July's thanksgiving for the joys of June.
And you are gone away --- and how shall I
Make August sing the raptures of July?
And you are gone away --- what evil star
Makes you so competent and popular?
How have I raised this harpy-hag of Hell's
Malice --- that you are wanted somewhere else?
I wish you were like me a man forbid,
Banned, outcast, nice society well rid
Of the pair of us --- then who would interfere
With us? --- my darling, you would now be here!
But no! we must fight on, win through, succeed,
Earn the grudged praise that never comes to meed,
Lash dogs to kennel, trample snakes, put bit
In the mule-mouths that have such need of it,
Until the world there's so much to forgive in
Becomes a little possible to live in.
God alone knows if battle or surrender
Be the true courage; either has its splendour.
But since we chose the first, God aid the right,
And damn me if I fail you in the fight!
God join again the ways that lie apart,
And bless the love of loyal heart to heart!
God keep us every hour in every thought,
And bring the vessel of our love to port!
These are my birthday wishes.
Dawn's at hand,
And you're an exile in a lonely land.
But what were magic if it could not give
My thought enough vitality to live?
Do not then dream this night has been a loss!
All night I have hung, a god, upon the cross;
All night I have offered incense at the shrine;
All night you have been unutterably mine,
Miner in the memory of the first wild hour
When my rough grasp tore the unwilling flower
From your closed garden, mine in every mood,
In every tense, in every attitude,
In every possibility, still mine
While the sun's pomp and pageant, sign to sign,
Stately proceeded, mine not only so
In the glamour of memory and austral glow
Of ardour, but by image of my brow
Stronger than sense, you are even here and now
Miner, utterly mine, my sister and my wife,
Mother of my children, mistress of my life!
O wild swan winging through the morning mist!
The thousand thousand kisses that we kissed,
The infinite device our love devised
If by some chance its truth might be surprised,
Are these all past? Are these to come? Believe me,
There is no parting; they can never leave me.
I have built you up into my heart and brain
So fast that we can never part again.
Why should I sing you these fantastic psalms
When all the time I have you in my arms?
Why? 'tis the murmur of our love that swells
Earth's dithyrambs and ocean's oracles.
But this is dawn; my soul shall make its nest
Where your sighs swing from rapture into rest
Love's thurible, your tiger-lily breast.
Langston Hughes |
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floorâ€”
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall nowâ€”
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Robert Pinsky |
to Robert Hass and in memory of Elliot Gilbert
Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bashõ and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter,
The secret courtesy that courses like ichor
Through the old form of the rude, full-scale joke,
Impossible to tell in writing.
He named himself, "Banana Tree": banana
After the plant some grateful students gave him,
Maybe in appreciation of his guidance
Threading a long night through the rules and channels
Of their collaborative linking-poem
Scored in their teacher's heart: live, rigid, fluid
Like passages etched in a microscopic cicuit.
Elliot had in his memory so many jokes
They seemed to breed like microbes in a culture
Inside his brain, one so much making another
It was impossible to tell them all:
In the court-culture of jokes, a top banana.
Imagine a court of one: the queen a young mother,
Unhappy, alone all day with her firstborn child
And her new baby in a squalid apartment
Of too few rooms, a different race from her neighbors.
She tells the child she's going to kill herself.
She broods, she rages.
Hoping to distract her,
The child cuts capers, he sings, he does imitations
Of different people in the building, he jokes,
He feels if he keeps her alive until the father
Gets home from work, they'll be okay till morning.
It's laughter versus the bedroom and the pills.
What is he in his efforts but a courtier?
Impossible to tell his whole delusion.
In the first months when I had moved back East
From California and had to leave a message
On Bob's machine, I used to make a habit
Of telling the tape a joke; and part-way through,
I would pretend that I forgot the punchline,
Or make believe that I was interrupted--
As though he'd be so eager to hear the end
He'd have to call me back.
The joke was Elliot's,
More often than not.
The doctors made the blunder
That killed him some time later that same year.
One day when I got home I found a message
On my machine from Bob.
He had a story
About two rabbis, one of them tall, one short,
One day while walking along the street together
They see the corpse of a Chinese man before them,
And Bob said, sorry, he forgot the rest.
Of course he thought that his joke was a dummy,
Impossible to tell--a dead-end challenge.
But here it is, as Elliot told it to me:
The dead man's widow came to the rabbis weeping,
Begging them, if they could, to resurrect him.
Shocked, the tall rabbi said absolutely not.
But the short rabbi told her to bring the body
Into the study house, and ordered the shutters
Closed so the room was night-dark.
Then he prayed
Over the body, chanting a secret blessing
Out of Kabala.
"Arise and breathe," he shouted;
But nothing happened.
The body lay still.
The little rabbi called for hundreds of candles
And danced around the body, chanting and praying
In Hebrew, then Yiddish, then Aramaic.
In Turkish and Egyptian and Old Galician
For nearly three hours, leaping about the coffin
In the candlelight so that his tiny black shoes
Seemed not to touch the floor.
With one last prayer
Sobbed in the Spanish of before the Inquisition
He stopped, exhausted, and looked in the dead man's face.
Panting, he raised both arms in a mystic gesture
And said, "Arise and breathe!" And still the body
Lay as before.
Impossible to tell
In words how Elliot's eyebrows flailed and snorted
Like shaggy mammoths as--the Chinese widow
Granting permission--the little rabbi sang
The blessing for performing a circumcision
And removed the dead man's foreskin, chanting blessings
In Finnish and Swahili, and bathed the corpse
From head to foot, and with a final prayer
In Babylonian, gasping with exhaustion,
He seized the dead man's head and kissed the lips
And dropped it again and leaping back commanded,
"Arise and breathe!" The corpse lay still as ever.
At this, as when Bashõ's disciples wind
Along the curving spine that links the renga
Across the different voices, each one adding
A transformation according to the rules
Of stasis and repetition, all in order
And yet impossible to tell beforehand,
Elliot changes for the punchline: the wee
Rabbi, still panting, like a startled boxer,
Looks at the dead one, then up at all those watching,
A kind of Mel Brooks gesture: "Hoo boy!" he says,
"Now that's what I call really dead.
" O mortal
Powers and princes of earth, and you immortal
Lords of the underground and afterlife,
Jehovah, Raa, Bol-Morah, Hecate, Pluto,
What has a brilliant, living soul to do with
Your harps and fires and boats, your bric-a-brac
And troughs of smoking blood? Provincial stinkers,
Our languages don't touch you, you're like that mother
Whose small child entertained her to beg her life.
Possibly he grew up to be the tall rabbi,
The one who washed his hands of all those capers
Right at the outset.
Or maybe he became
The author of these lines, a one-man renga
The one for whom it seems to be impossible
To tell a story straight.
It was a routine
When it was finished the physicians
Told Sandra and the kids it had succeeded,
But Elliot wouldn't wake up for maybe an hour,
They should go eat.
The two of them loved to bicker
In a way that on his side went back to Yiddish,
On Sandra's to some Sicilian dialect.
He used to scold her endlessly for smoking.
When she got back from dinner with their children
The doctors had to tell them about the mistake.
Oh swirling petals, falling leaves! The movement
Of linking renga coursing from moment to moment
Is meaning, Bob says in his Haiku book.
Oh swirling petals, all living things are contingent,
Falling leaves, and transient, and they suffer.
But the Universal is the goal of jokes,
Especially certain ethnic jokes, which taper
Down through the swirling funnel of tongues and gestures
Toward their preposterous Ithaca.
A journalist told me.
He heard it while a hero
Of the South African freedom movement was speaking
To elderly Jews.
The speaker's own right arm
Had been blown off by right-wing letter-bombers.
He told his listeners they had to cast their ballots
For the ANC--a group the old Jews feared
As "in with the Arabs.
" But they started weeping
As the old one-armed fighter told them their country
Needed them to vote for what was right, their vote
Could make a country their children could return to
From London and Chicago.
The moved old people
Applauded wildly, and the speaker's friend
Whispered to the journalist, "It's the Belgian Army
Joke come to life.
" I wish I could tell it
In the Belgian Army, the feud
Between the Flemings and Walloons grew vicious,
So out of hand the army could barely function.
Finally one commander assembled his men
In one great room, to deal with things directly.
They stood before him at attention.
He ordered, "to the left wall.
" Half the men
Clustered to the left.
"Now all Walloons," he ordered,
"Move to the right.
" An equal number crowded
Against the right wall.
Only one man remained
At attention in the middle: "What are you, soldier?"
Saluting, the man said, "Sir, I am a Belgian.
"Why, that's astonishing, Corporal--what's your name?"
Saluting again, "Rabinowitz," he answered:
A joke that seems at first to be a story
About the Jews.
But as the renga describes
Religious meaning by moving in drifting petals
And brittle leaves that touch and die and suffer
The changing winds that riffle the gutter swirl,
So in the joke, just under the raucous music
Of Fleming, Jew, Walloon, a courtly allegiance
Moves to the dulcimer, gavotte and bow,
Over the banana tree the moon in autumn--
Allegiance to a state impossible to tell.
Walt Whitman |
TO think of time—of all that retrospection!
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!
Have you guess’d you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you fear’d the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women were flexible, real, alive!
everything was alive!
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our part!
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an accouchement!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters are sent for,
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has long pervaded the rooms,)
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,
It is palpable as the living are palpable.
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously on the corpse.
To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials!
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen, and act upon
upon us now—yet not act upon us!
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking great interest in
them—and we taking no interest in them!
To think how eager we are in building our houses!
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy or eighty years at
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never cease—they are
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall surely be buried.
A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river, half-frozen mud in
streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead, the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral of an old Broadway
stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate is pass’d, the
new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the hearse uncloses,
The coffin is pass’d out, lower’d and settled, the whip is laid on the coffin,
earth is swiftly shovel’d in,
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,
He is decently put away—is there anything more?
He was a good fellow, free-mouth’d, quick-temper’d, not bad-looking, able to
own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with life or death for a friend, fond of
gambled, ate hearty, drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
the last, sicken’d, was help’d by a contribution, died, aged forty-one
that was his funeral.
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather clothes, whip
carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler, somebody loafing on you, you loafing
somebody, headway, man before and man behind, good day’s work, bad day’s work,
stock, mean stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and he there takes no
interest in them!
The markets, the government, the working-man’s wages—to think what account they
through our nights and days!
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of them—yet we make
or no account!
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call goodness—to
wide a difference!
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond the difference.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a nomination and
election? or with your wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful maternal cares?
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward,
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross’d you are!
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of what avail?
What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
The sky continues beautiful,
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of women with men,
the pleasure from poems,
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of houses—these are
phantasms—they have weight, form, location;
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them phantasms,
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of his life, are
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely around yourself;
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!
It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and father—it is to
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form’d in you,
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.
The threads that were spun are gather’d, the weft crosses the warp, the pattern is
The preparations have every one been justified,
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the baton has given the
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he is now housed,
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of those that to look upon
with is enough.
The law of the past cannot be eluded,
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof can be eluded.
Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the Atlantic side, and
on the Pacific, and they between, and all through the Mississippi country, and all over
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and good-doers are well,
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and distinguish’d, may
But there is more account than that—there is strict account of all.
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American aborigines are not nothing,
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the murderer or mean person is
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as they go,
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion is not nothing as he
Of and in all these things,
I have dream’d that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law of us changed,
I have dream’d that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present and past law,
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present and past law,
For I have dream’d that the law they are under now is enough.
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray’d!
Then indeed suspicion of death.
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die now,
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward annihilation?
Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect,
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have pass’d on to this, and slowly and surely they yet pass
I swear I think now that everything without exception has an eternal Soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life and materials are
Raymond Carver |
Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I've been told won't bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children's handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they'll die before I do, and I'll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.
I've said that.
Wallace Stevens |
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passion of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in the comforts of sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.
She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote as heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her rememberance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.
She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.
Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate.
The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receeding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsered, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Abiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.