Before and Every After

- 1950-

                                   —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.

More by Marianne Boruch

Little Fugue

Everyone should have a little fugue, she says,
the young conductor 
taking her younger charges through
the saddest of pieces, almost a dirge
written for unholy times, and no, 
not for money.
                Ready? she tells them, measuring out 
each line for cello, viola, violin.
It will sound to you
not quite right. She means the aching half-step
of the minor key, no release
from it, that always-on-the-verge-of, that
repeat, repeat.
              Everyone should have a little fugue--
I write that down like I cannot write
the larger griefs. For my part, I 
believe her. Little fugue I wouldn't
have to count.

Still Life

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 been
a pistol but someone was told, no,
put that away, into the box with a key
though the key had been
misplaced now for a year.  The artist
wanted light too, for the shadows. 
So the table had to be moved. Somewhere
I dreamt the diary entry
on this, reading the impossible
Dutch quite well, thank you, and I can
translate it here, someone writing
it is spring, after all, and Herr Muller
wants a window of it in the painting, almost
a line of poetry, I thought even then,
in the dream, impressed 
with that "spring after all," that 
"window of it" especially, how sweet
and to the point it came over
into English with no effort at all
as I slept through the night. It was heavy,
that table. Two workers were called
from the east meadow to lift
and grunt and carry it
across the room, just those
few yards.  Of course one of them
exaggerated the pain in his shoulder. 
Not the older, the younger man. 
No good reason
to cry out like that.  But this
was art. And he did, something
sharp and in the air that 
one time. All of them turning then,
however slightly. And there he was, 
eyes closed, not much 
more than a boy, before 
the talk of beauty
started up again.

What God Knew

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 all really, 
not yet one thing leading to another, sperm 
to egg endlessly, thus cities, thus 
the green countryside lying down 
piecemeal, the meticulous and the trash, 
between lake and woods 
the dotted swiss of towns along 
any state road. Was God

sleeping when he knew nothing?  As opposed 
to up all night (before there was night) 
or alert all day  (before day)?  As opposed to that,
little engine starting up by itself, history, 
a thing that keeps beginning
and goes past its end. Will it end, this
looking back?  From here, it's one shiny 
ravaged century after another, 
but back there, in a house or two: a stillness, 
a blue cup, a spoon, one silly flower raised up 
from seed.  I think so fondly of the day 
someone got lucky 
and dodged the tragedy meant for him. It spilled 
like sound from a faulty speaker
over an open field. He listened from
a distance. God-like, any one of us
could say.