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About this Poem 

"'Before and Every After' is an elegy, which follows a real river through a real cave, a specific afternoon. Half-dreamt there too, a museum's small ancient Egyptian funerary boat, once tucked in a coffin to guide and make safe such a crossing. This is partly the nature of mourning, I think, and poetry, for that matter. Time and era give way and merge; the strange becomes solace."

—Marianne Boruch

Before and Every After

Marianne Boruch

                                   —in memory


Eventually one dreams the real thing.

The cave as it was, what we paid to straddle
one skinny box-turned-seat down the middle, narrow boat
made special for the state park, the wet, the tricky

passing into rock and underground river.

A single row of strangers faced front, each of us
behind another close
as dominoes to fall or we were angels lined up
politely, pre-flight, like that was
a coffin we rode, the go-to, take-out end of it,

a shipping container for a giant.

Now every after—
Not to embellish, but I count the ice age in this story
since its grinding made that cave.

I count us too, as mourners.

A smart, full-of-fun-facts park ranger poled us
past summer. A cool which meant dark, meaning
I pictured the giant in life before
he lay down in that boat

under the blood in us, under our breathing.

Upright, his long bones
and knobby joints. He slouched in a doorway
smoking cigarettes, talking What-Would-Bertram-Russell-Do
kindly and funny to the dumb
all of us who adored him, not dream and then dream.

Repeatedly, that thing about us adoring him.

The ranger pointed out the obvious
spare mob scene of caves: the endless drip to make
a stalactite, tiny crawfish and frogs transparent, hearts
by flashlight, visibly beating away.

We got quiet drifting deeper.

What does it mean, something over and over
with your eyes shut?

I remember us from before too,
from museums. I love us there still, the same
us, the way the ancient Egyptians kept their dead
safe crossing over, smallish
intricate models—who they were and even
their sorrow to scale—those
rowing tireless to the other side.

A boat the length of my forearm, faces
to freeze like that
forward, released, the blankest wonder though I think
we came back. Of course he did not

and could not, the giant I made up

for the passage. But all night, how the whole dream
grateful I was to others
patient, more steely practical with
things sacred, who took the real one across

hours before we got there.

Copyright @ 2014 by Marianne Boruch. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Marianne Boruch. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2014.

Marianne Boruch

Marianne Boruch

Marianne Boruch is the author of eight poetry collections, including Cadaver, Speak (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She teaches at Purdue University and in the graduate program for writers at Warren Wilson College. Boruch lives in West Lafayette, Indiana.

by this poet

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when he knew nothing.  A leaf
looks like this, doesn’t it? No one
to ask. So came the invention
of the question too, the way all 
at heart are rhetorical, each leaf
suddenly wedded to its shade. When God 

knew nothing, it was better, wasn't it? 
Not the color blue yet, its deep 
unto black.  No color at
poem
Someone arranged them in 1620.
Someone found the rare lemon and paid
a lot and neighbored it next 
to the plain pear, the plain
apple of the lost garden, the glass
of wine, set down mid-sip—
don’t drink it, someone said, it’s for
the painting.  And the rabbit skull—
whose idea was that?  There had
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Overnight, it’s pow! The held note
keeps falling. And only seems
slow. Because it’s just 
frozen rain, what’s the big deal? the checker
in Stop and Shop told me.
                                           Save warmth
like stamps. The fade of their color
in the 1920s.  Airmail.  The pilot with his 
skin-