‘repito par el organo orel de tu silencio.’ Vallejo
I am a column of silence, resonating where it touches
on our world;
reluctant as silk drawn from flesh, or a harp
singing in its cage of wind.
My tongue is shaped by sibilants of grass
stone against thorn.
In my mouth
vowels age like seasons longing to become soil.
The trees with their arms laden.
The trees with empty hands.
I speak for the pause between waves,
for the night wind resting at the edges of itself
and the easy dissolution of clouds.
I speak for snowfalls and the flecked granite,
for the mirrors clutching their people
of familiar smoke.
I speak for tomorrow’s dust.
And I speak for my dark father, who floats face down
in the slack shadow-waters of memory, his mouth
rinsed clean of air.
I speak for want of silence.
And so they come back, those girls who painted
the watch dials luminous and died.
They come back and their hands glow and their lips
and hair and their footprints gleam in the past like an alien snow.
It was as if what shone in them once had broken free
and burned through the cotton of their lives.
And I want to know this: how they came to believe
that something so beautiful could ever have turned out rights,
but though they can open their mouths to answer me,
all I can hear is light.
Between the hearthstone
and the machiar,
between the prefabs
and the factory,
between the bleachfields
and the river,
between the rhubarb
and the bicycle,
we are struck down
and we rise up again.
No one dares touch us.
No one will honour us.
We are our own gods.
There was an apple tree in the yard –
this would have been
forty years ago – behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
I do know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts –
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
Imagine if suffering were real.
Imagine if those old people were afraid of death.
What if the midget or the girl with one arm
really felt pain? Imagine how impossible it would be
to live if some people were
alone and afraid all their lives.
Are you weary, alder tree
in this, the age of rain?
From your branches
droop clots of lichen
like fairy lungs. All week
squalls, tattered mists:
alder, who unfolded
before the receding glaciers
first one leaf then another,
won’t you teach me
a way to live
on this damp ambiguous earth?
The rain showers
release from you a broken tune
but when the sun blinks, as it must,
how you’ll sparkle –
like a fountain in a wood
of untold fountains.
We have all seen them circling pastures,
have looked up from the mouth of a barn, a pine clearing,
the fences of our own backyards, and have stood
amazed by the one slow wing beat, the endless dihedral drift.
But I had never seen so many so close, hundreds,
every limb of the dead oak feathered black,
and I cut the engine, let the river grab the jon boat
and pull it toward the tree.
The black leaves shined, the pink fruit blossomed
red, ugly as a human heart.
Then, as I passed under their dream, I saw for the first time
its soft countenance, the raw fleshy jowls
wrinkled and generous, like the faces of the very old
who have grown to empathize with everything.
And I drifted away from them, slow, on the pull of the river,
reluctant, looking back at their roost,
calling them what I’d never called them, what they are,
those dwarfed transfiguring angels,
who flock to the side of the poisoned fox, the mud turtle
crushed on the shoulder of the road,
who pray over the leaf-graves of the anonymous lost,
with mercy enough to consume us all and give us wings.
There was a nest of blood red swallow down,
there was a nest, built with the naked bones
of little swallows that wanted to live
in this nest built with their little bones,
so warm in the nest of their down blood red.
(tran. Charlotte Melin)
Near are we, Lord,
near and graspable
Grasped already, lord,
clawed into each other, as if
each of our bodies were
your body, Lord.
pray to us,
we are near.
Wind-skewed we went there,
went there to bend
over pit and crater.
Went to the water-trough, Lord.
It was blood, it was
what you shed, Lord.
It cast your image into your eyes, Lord.
Eyes and mouth stand so open and void, Lord.
We have drunk, Lord.
The blood and the image that was in the blood, Lord.
We are near.
(trans. John Felstiner)