Famous Last Words

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‘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
upon air,
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.

John Glenday

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Undark

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.

John Glenday

Nettles

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.

John Glenday

Story About the Body

 

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity–like music–withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl oh the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl–she must have swept them from the corners of her studio–was full of dead bees.

Robert Hass

Nostos

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.

 

Louise Gluck

‘Games’

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.

Jack Gilbert

Alder

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.

 

Kathleen Jamie

Under the Vulture Tree

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.

David Bottoms

Tenebrae

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, 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 shined.

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.

Pray, Lord.
We are near.

Paul Celan

(trans. John Felstiner)