The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.
Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!
Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.
Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.
In you the wars and the flights accumulated.
From you the wings of the song birds rose.
You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!
It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.
The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.
Pilot’s dread, fury of a blind diver,
turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!
In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.
Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!
You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!
I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.
Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.
Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness,
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.
There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.
There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle.
Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me
in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!
How terrible and brief was my desire of you!
How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.
Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,
still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.
Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.
Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired.
And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.
And the word scarcely begun on the lips.
This was my destiny and in it was the voyage of my longing,
and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!
Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,
what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!
From billow to billow you still called and sang.
Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.
You still flowered in songs, you still broke in currents.
Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.
Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,
lost discoverer, in you everything sank!
It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour
which the night fastens to all the timetables.
The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.
Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.
Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
Only the tremulous shadow twists in my hands.
Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.
It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one.
From Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, by Pablo Neruda, translated by W. S. Merwin, published by Chronicle Books. Copyright © 1969 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of W. S. Merwin. All rights reserved.
For Joan Retallack
Of course it’s not easy to believe in your own dream. The working of instinct near water. Not orchards. Not apples or pears. Not nowadays. I don't know how psychoanalysis has no hesitation on how dark the night can get. The world, which is unfinished, occupying more and more of the sky.
Emotion as unpleasurable tension, the high passage of the moon. The laundry. Sensitivity won't do it. Therefore and quite often we lie down in stubbled fields. The voice of the cicada. Tells nothing.
Any day lies thick in the garden I propose to enter. Then fills with secret rivers that darkness feeds on. Lapsed sense of history. No massacre. The cicadas relentlessly.
It doesn't matter if your feet are small. When you're asleep. The fruit trees enormous. A motor idles in the foreground. If, with quicker travel, things did indeed turn out according to one's wildest. If a child could be born from something not a mother.
The circumstance that the wife occupies the inner room and rarely if ever comes out is called the pleasure principle. In certain societies. Suddenly made clear by the cicadas. The meaning of life, absolutely. Distinguished from the now moonless garden.
And hooded with fabric like mirrors not in use. And like appearance refusing itself. A pleasure that cannot be felt as such to transcend becoming strange.
An orchard in the foreground. With beginnings of unease immediately behind.
From Split Infinities. Copyright © 1998 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Used with the permission of the author.
Written in a Moment of Exasperation How can you lie so still? All day I watch And never a blade of all the green sod moves To show where restlessly you toss and turn, And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees Stiffened and aching from their long disuse; I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth To take its freedom of the midnight hour. Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones? The very worms must scorn you where you lie, A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk, Meek habitants of unresented graves. Why are you there in your straight row on row Where I must ever see you from my bed That in your mere dumb presence iterate The text so weary in my ears: "Lie still And rest; be patient and lie still and rest." I'll not be patient! I will not lie still! There is a brown road runs between the pines, And further on the purple woodlands lie, And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom; And I would walk the road and I would be Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds. My eyes may follow but my feet are held. Recumbent as you others must I too Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod? And if the many sayings of the wise Teach of submission I will not submit But with a spirit all unreconciled Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars. Better it is to walk, to run, to dance, Better it is to laugh and leap and sing, To know the open skies of dawn and night, To move untrammel'd down the flaming noon, And I will clamour it through weary days Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp, Nor with the pliant speaking on my lips Of resignation, sister to defeat. I'll not be patient. I will not lie still. And in ironic quietude who is The despot of our days and lord of dust Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop Grim casual comment on rebellion's end: "Yes; yes . . . Wilful and petulant but now As dead and quiet as the other are." And this each body and ghost of you hath heard That in your graves do therefore lie so still.
November, 1913. This poem is in the public domain.
Because the smallness of our being
is our only greatness.
Because one night I was in a room
listening until only one heart beat.
Because in these last years I’ve
worn and worn and nearly worn out
my black funeral shoes.
Because the gesture of after words
means the same thing no matter
who speaks them.
Because faith belief forever
are only words, no matter.
Because matter disappears
always and eventually.
Because action is not matter
that spent, changes being.
And if death, too, is a change of being
perhaps action counts.
And if death is a land of unknowing,
perhaps we do well to live with uncertainty.
And if death is a forested land,
it would be good to learn trees.
And if death is a kingdom,
it would be good to practice service.
And if death is a foreign state
we should loosen allegiance to this one.
And if the soul leaves our body
then we must rehearse goodbye.
Originally published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Issue 54. Copyright © 2014 by Kimberly Blaeser. Used with the permission of the author.
I hope my death is not stolen from me by a fiery blast of Fahrenheit or Celsius or another calculatable accuracy. I will gladly relinquish all the pleasures of daily bread, the pride and dreams of art—even pulse; but I hope my death will not be taken from me. Actually, it is a modest policy; little there to discuss as to solace or in the way of privacy. A valued moment of self-possession? Might it be something to embrace more than to expulse? I hope my death will not be pried from me. My end is not to be just a cause in a public sea of scientists teaming against a disease, a private point in a welter of piracy. After all, won't it fundamentally and rightly be mine and no one else's? I hope my death is not taken from me; better, it be an appointment kept in a private sea.
Copyright © 2010 by Scott Hightower. Used by permission of the author.