When you have been at war with yourself for so many years that you have forgotten why, when you have been driving for hours and only gradually begin to realize that you have lost the way, when you have cut hastily into the fabric, when you have signed papers in distraction, when it has been centuries since you watched the sun set or the rain fall, and the clouds, drifting overhead, pass as flat as anything on a postcard; when, in the midst of these everyday nightmares, you understand that you could wake up, you could turn and go back to the last thing you remember doing with your whole heart: that passionate kiss, the brilliant drop of love rolling along the tongue of a green leaf, then you wake, you stumble from your cave, blinking in the sun, naming every shadow as it slips.
I was satisfied with haiku until I met you, jar of octopus, cuckoo’s cry, 5-7-5, but now I want a Russian novel, a 50-page description of you sleeping, another 75 of what you think staring out a window. I don’t care about the plot although I suppose there will have to be one, the usual separation of the lovers, turbulent seas, danger of decommission in spite of constant war, time in gulps and glitches passing, squibs of threnody, a fallen nest, speckled eggs somehow uncrushed, the sled outracing the wolves on the steppes, the huge glittering ball where all that matters is a kiss at the end of a dark hall. At dawn the officers ride back to the garrison, one without a glove, the entire last chapter about a necklace that couldn’t be worn inherited by a great-niece along with the love letters bound in silk.
O Lord, I did walk upon the earth and my footprints did keep pace with the rain and I did note, I did note where orange birds flew up from the puddles thou hast made and where the toads leapt from your trenches, but nowhere was there that I could go for I could not rise from the firmament upon which I was placed, and nowhere could I so I kept until I could no more straight then bent said I am down to make room for the more and you half hearing did send me down into the soul of another by mistakes and I would like to thank you for it from where I lie, risen in the eye of the other.
Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch-hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason,
Trying to think of something useful To say about marriage, I remember A morning when I was twenty-plus, Self-absorbed in my tinny pink Renault Dauphine, my Little Toot, And I tried to get by a tank-truck on A bendy road too briefly straight. Shuddering, pedal floored, my frivolous Vessel leveled with the cab Like a pilot fish by a shark’s grim grille. Then there was a car ahead of us And, as I tried to floor a pedal Already on the floor, the blue Of ice I hadn’t seen. Spinning Toward the implacable hugeness of the cab, looking up Into the eyes of the truckdriver, I felt Only the sweet certainty of Submission, call it love, as if Already I had left myself and could look Down with the driver’s godlike and loving Eyes at a comical pink Dauphine Sliding backwards down the road, then spinning Again and into a snowbank, tilted Against a tree. One flat tire And a dent in the roof I pushed out myself. I made it to work on time. Because The truckdriver had seen the oncoming car Before I had, had seen the patch of blue And had slowed to let me by, I met And married your mother, and you were born And have grown up to meet and marry, and I Have begun to understand the blind h Release of self to the will of another And the answering wise, dispassionate Restraint of the merger we call marriage.
On a hill overlooking the Rock River my father’s pear tree shimmers, in perfect peace, covered with hundreds of ripe pears with pert tops, plump bottoms, and long curved leaves. Until the green-haloed tree rose up and sang hello, I had forgotten… He planted it twelve years ago, when he was seventy-three, so that in September he could stroll down with the sound of the crickets rising and falling around him, and stand, naked to the waist, slightly bent, sucking juice from a ripe pear.
My father, when he was surprised or suddenly impressed, would blurt “Great day in the morning,” as though a revelation had struck him. The figure of his speech would seem to claim some large event appeared at hand, if not already here; a mighty day or luminous age was flinging wide its doors as world on world revealed their wonders in the rapturous morning, always new, beginning as the now took hold.
I go by a field where once I cultivated a few poor crops. It is now covered with young trees, for the forest that belongs here has come back and reclaimed its own. And I think of all the effort I have wasted and all the time, and of how much joy I took in that failed work and how much it taught me. For in so failing I learned something of my place, something of myself, and now I welcome back the trees.
I drove down the Freeway And turned off at an exit And went along a highway Til it came to a sideroad Drove up the sideroad Til it turned to a dirt road Full of bumps, and stopped. Walked up a trail But the trail got rough And it faded away— Out in the open, Everywhere to go.
Here is a glass of water from my well. It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain; It is the best I have, my only spell, And it is cold, and better than champagne. Perhaps someone will pass this house one day To drink, and be restored, and go his way, Someone in dark confusion as I was When I drank down cold water in a glass, Drank a transparent health to keep me sane, After the bitter mood had gone again.
Oh the gallant Fishers life, It is the best of any, ‘Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And ‘tis belov’d of many: Other joyes are but toyes, only this lawful is, for our skill breeds no ill, but content and pleasure.
In a morning up we rise, Ere Aurora’s peeping, Drink a cup to wash our eyes, Leave the sluggard sleeping: Then we go to and fro, with our knacks at our backs, to such streams as the Thames, if we have the leasure.
When we pleas to walk abroad For our recreation, In the fields is our abode, Full of delectation. Where in a brook with a book, or a Lake, fish we take; there we sit, for a bit, till we fish intangle.
They served tea in the sandpile, together with Mudpies baked on the sidewalk. After tea The youngest said that he had had a good dinner, The oldest dressed for a dance, And they sallied forth together with watering pots To moisten a rusted fire truck on account of it Might rain.
I watched from my study, Thought of my part in these contributions to world Gaiety, and resolved That the very least acknowledgment I could make Would be to join them;
so we All took our watering pots (filled with pies) And poured tea on our dog. Then I kissed the children And told them that when they grew up we would have Real tea parties. “That did be fun!” the youngest shouted, and ate pies With wild surmise.
The children know it The way they call to each other the way they gather to trim the branches as at old rituals their gentleness When we were young, they say
The father stooped as they are straight goes from one to another names them, consults the dog’s leg some car trouble always an object between them He sits among them this summer in his old T-shirt His body absorbs them
The mother laughs often this summer teases their friends My daughter gave me my son helped me, she tells me She spins around them ties up her plants has them paint and paper She thinks: It will be nice for them There may be a wedding who knows Five still at home but not for long She is the bravest She says it if only to herself It is the last summer, she says It is the last summer
My own heart let me more have pity on; let Me live to my sad self hereafter kind, Charitable; not live this tormented mind With this tormented mind tormenting yet. I cast for comfort I can no more get By groping round my comfortless, than blind Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile ‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile.
You don’t believe — I won’t attempt to make ye. You are asleep — I won’t attempt to wake ye. Sleep on, sleep on, while in your pleasant dreams Of reason you may drink of life’s clear streams Reason and Newton, they are quite two things, For so the swallow and the sparrow sings. Reason says ‘Miracle’, Newton says ‘Doubt’. Aye, that’s the way to make all Nature out: Doubt, doubt, and don’t believe without experiment. That is the very thing that Jesus meant When he said: ‘Only believe.” Believe and try, Try, try, and never mind the reason why.
When I have left I imagine they will repair the window onto the fire escape that looks north up the avenue clear to Columbus Circle long I have known the lights of that valley at every hour through that unwashed pane and have watched with no conclusion its river flowing toward me straight from the featureless distance coming closer darkening swelling growing distinct speeding up as it passed below me toward the tunnel all that time through all that time taking itself through its sound which became part of my own before long the unrolling rumble the iron solos and the sirens all subsiding in the small hours to voices echoing from the sidewalks a rustling in the rushes along banks and the loose glass vibrated like a remembering bee as the north wind slipped under the winter sill at the small table by the widow until my right arm ached and stiffened and I pushed the chair back against the bed and got up and went out into the other room that was filled with the east sky and the day replayed from the windows and roofs of the Village the room where friends came and we sat talking and where we ate and lived together while the blue paint flurried down from the ceiling and we listened late with lights out to music hearing the intercom from the hospital across the avenue through the Mozart Dr Kaplan wanted on the tenth floor while reflected lights flowed backward on the walls.
Turn the knob. The burner ticks then exhales flame in a swift up burst, its dim roar like the surf. Your kitchen burns white, lamplight on enamel, warm with the promise of bread and soup. Outside the night rains ink. To a stranger bracing his umbrella, think how your lit window must seem both warm and cold, a kiss withheld, lights strung above a distant patio. Think how your bare arm, glimpsed as you chop celery or grate a carrot glows like one link in a necklace. How the clink of silverware on porcelain carries to the street. As you unfold your napkin, book spread beside your plate, consider the ticking of rain against pavement, the stoplight red and steady as a flame.