The Layers

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being abides,

from which I struggle not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way, bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice directed me:

‘Live in the layers, not on the litter.’

Though I lack the art to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter in my book

of transformations is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

 

Stanley Kunitz

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Donal Og

 

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday
and myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

 

Augusta, Lady Gregory (1903)

Final Notations

it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought

it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

You are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will

Adrienne Rich

Amber

Some wounds weep precious through the generations.

They glaze and harden, heal themselves into history.

 

What was mere sap matures like blood into air to darken

and burnish.  Sometimes the grim Baltic rolls the scars

 

to shape those jewels women love to wear; especially

treasured where they hold a thing that was living once,

 

something with quick, venated wings which happened

by and thought the wound looked beautiful and sweet

 

and that, like other wounds, it should be acknowledged

somehow and,  if only for a moment, touched.

 

John Glenday

Of Bees

Bees have a Commonwealth and regiment.

They go about in Spring, as Beanes bloume.

 

How cleane their hives, no trumperie or gubbins.

All filth is foot-balled smartlie out.

 

They take joye in the clapping of hands,

the brute call of brasen bassoons.

 

Their young, a knit-work of severall flowres,

their sinews petals, handsomely composed.

 

Concerning honie, and its origin: a skie-sweat,

a glutinous gellie, proceeding from starres.

 

This substance, the aires liquor, Bees gather.

With rainbows comes a drisling dew of honie,

 

as lovers prove, their kisses glewie-sweet.

 

A.B. Jackson

Lemon

In the lemon

we find a fire

that cools, coos.

Mathematically succinct

it is a flame

which unlike most

can be cut in half

or thirds if you prefer.

In the skin

of its lantern

light implodes,

slowing to the speed

of mere human endevour

before giving itself

into a last sudden burst

like eyesight

to the blindness

of the mouth.

 

Elaine Equi

Say Something Back

Still looking for lost people – look unrelentingly.
‘They died’ is not an utterance in the syntax of life
where they belonged, no belong – reanimate them
not minding if the still living turn away, casually.
Winds ruck up its skin so the sea tilts from red-blue
to blue-red: into the puckering water go his ashes
who was steadier than these elements. Thickness
of some surviving thing that sits there, bland. It’s
owner’s gone nor does the idiot howl – while I’m
unquiet as a talkative ear. Spring heat, a cherry
tree’s fresh bronze leave fan out and gleam – to
converse with shades, yourself become a shadow.
The souls of the dead are the spirit of language:
you hear them alight inside that spoken thought.

Denise Riley
(From Say Something Back, PICADOR)

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine though the chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Jane Kenyon

Bridge End, October

As some attract lightning, and others midges,

I draw behind me a delicate rain –

hooves drumming lightly the steep, dry lane –

a confabulation of wall-eyed gimmers.

Thought of my thought, herd of my heart,

we jink in a flock, in a shoal, we turn.

The school bus – eventual, awful – passes

The obstacle of a rolling tin can halts us.

 

Jen Hadfield

Lady of Miracles

Since you walked out on me
I’m getting lovelier by the hour.
I glow like a corpse in the dark.
No one sees how round and sharp
My eyes have grown
How my carcass looks like a glass urn,
How I hold up things in the rags of my hands,
The way I can stand though crippled by lust.
No, there’s just your cruelty circling
My head like a bright rotting halo.

Nina Cassian
(Trans. Laura Schiff)