There were feathers and the light that passed through feathers. There were birds that made the feathers and the sun that made the light. The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings, stiller than the stare of a hooded falcon. But no falcons in this green made by the passage of parents. No, not parents, parrots flying through slow sleep casting green rays to light the long dream. If skin, dew would have drenched it, but dust hung in space like the stoppage of time itself, which, after dancing with parrots, had said, Thank you. I'll rest now. It's not too late to say the parrot light was thick enough to part with a hand, and the feathers softening the path, fallen after so much touching of cheeks, were red, hibiscus red split by veins of flight now at the end of flying. Despite the halt of time, the feathers trusted red and believed indolence would fill the long dream, until the book shut and time began again to hurt.
From The Last Skin by Barbara Ras. Copyright © 2010 by Barbara Ras. Used by permission of Penguin.
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.
From Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras, published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Copyright © 1997 by Barbara Ras. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows
what we see is never what we touch
what we take turns out to be something else
what we see that one time departs untouched
while other shadows gather around us
the world’s shadows mingle with our own
we had forgotten them but they know us
they remember us as we always were
they were at home here before the first came
everything will leave us except the shadows
but the shadows carry the whole story
at first daybreak they open their long wings
W. S. Merwin, “The Wings of Daylight” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
If I had not met the red-haired boy whose father had broken a leg parachuting into Provence to join the resistance in the final stage of the war and so had been killed there as the Germans were moving north out of Italy and if the friend who was with him as he was dying had not had an elder brother who also died young quite differently in peacetime leaving two children one of them with bad health who had been kept out of school for a whole year by an illness and if I had written anything else at the top of the examination form where it said college of your choice or if the questions that day had been put differently and if a young woman in Kittanning had not taught my father to drive at the age of twenty so that he got the job with the pastor of the big church in Pittsburgh where my mother was working and if my mother had not lost both parents when she was a child so that she had to go to her grandmother’s in Pittsburgh I would not have found myself on an iron cot with my head by the fireplace of a stone farmhouse that had stood empty since some time before I was born I would not have travelled so far to lie shivering with fever though I was wrapped in everything in the house nor have watched the unctuous doctor hold up his needle at the window in the rain light of October I would not have seen through the cracked pane the darkening valley with its river sliding past the amber mountains nor have wakened hearing plums fall in the small hour thinking I knew where I was as I heard them fall
Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
From The Book of Fables by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2007 by W.S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
My friends without shields walk on the target It is late the windows are breaking My friends without shoes leave What they love Grief moves among them as a fire among Its bells My friends without clocks turn On the dial they turn They part My friends with names like gloves set out Bare handed as they have lived And nobody knows them It is they that lay the wreaths at the milestones it is their Cups that are found at the wells And are then chained up My friends without feet sit by the wall Nodding to the lame orchestra Brotherhood it says on the decorations My friend without eyes sits in the rain smiling With a nest of salt in his hand My friends without fathers or houses hear Doors opening in the darkness Whose halls announce Behold the smoke has come home My friends and I have in common The present a wax bell in a wax belfry This message telling of Metals this Hunger for the sake of hunger this owl in the heart And these hands one For asking one for applause My friends with nothing leave it behind In a box My friends without keys go out from the jails it is night They take the same road they miss Each other they invent the same banner in the dark They ask their way only of sentries too proud to breathe At dawn the stars on their flag will vanish The water will turn up their footprints and the day will rise Like a monument to my Friends the forgotten
From The Moving Target, by W. S. Merwin, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1963 by W. S. Merwin. Used with permission.
When she looked down from the kitchen window
into the back yard and the brown wicker
baby carriage in which she had tucked me
three months old to lie out in the fresh air
of my first January the carriage
was shaking she said and went on shaking
and she saw I was lying there laughing
she told me about it later it was
something that reassured her in a life
in which she had lost everyone she loved
before I was born and she had just begun
to believe that she might be able to
keep me as I lay there in the winter
laughing it was what she was thinking of
later when she told me that I had been
a happy child and she must have kept that
through the gray cloud of all her days and now
out of the horn of dreams of my own life
I wake again into the laughing child
W. S. Merwin, “The Laughing Child” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,www.coppercanyonpress.org.
when you send the rain,
think about it, please,
not get carried away
by the sound of falling water,
the marvelous light
on the falling water.
am beneath that water.
It falls with great force
and the light
me to the light.
From Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems by James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 The James Baldwin Estate. Used by permission of Beacon Press.