I can bless a death this human, this leaf the size of my hand. From the life-line spreads a sapped, distended jaundice toward the edges, still green. I've seen the sick starve out beyond the grip of their disease. They sleep for days, their stomachs gone, the bones in their hands seeming to rise to the hour that will receive them. Sometimes on their last evening, they sit up and ask for food, their faces bloodless, almost golden, they inquire about the future. * One August I drove the back roads, the dust wheeling behind me. I wandered through the ruins of sharecrop farms and saw the weeds in the sun frames opening the floorboards. Once behind what must have been an outhouse the way wild yellow roses bunched and climbed the sweaty walls, I found a pile of letters, fire-scarred, urinous. All afternoon the sun brought the field to me. The insects hushed as I approached. I read how the world had failed who ever lived behind the page, behind the misquoted Bible verses, that awkward backhand trying to explain deliverance. * The morning Keats left Guys Hospital's cadaver rooms for the last time, he said he was afraid. This was the future, this corning down a stairway under the elms' summer green, passing the barber shops along the avenue that still performed the surgeries, still dumped blood caught in sand from porcelain washtubs into the road-side sewer. From those windows, from a distance, he could have been anyone taking in the trees, mistaking the muse for this new warmth around his heart—the first symptom of his illness—that so swelled the look of things, it made leaves into poems, though he'd write later he had not grieved, not loved enough to claim them.
Deborah Digges - 1950-2009
1 My mother always called it a nest, the multi-colored mass harvested from her six daughters' brushes, and handed it to one of us after she had shaped it, as we sat in front of the fire drying our hair. She said some birds steal anything, a strand of spider's web, or horse's mane, the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses near a fold where every summer of her girlhood hundreds nested. Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius— how they transform the useless. I've seen plastics stripped and whittled into a brilliant straw, and newspapers—the dates, the years— supporting the underweavings. 2 As tonight in our bed by the window you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean the brush as my mother did, offering the nest to the updraft. I'd like to think it will be lifted as far as the river, and catch in some white sycamore, or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets, the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects lay their eggs. Would this constitute an afterlife? The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks off islands they called paradise, stood in the early sunlight cutting their hair. And the rare birds there, nameless, almost extinct, came down around them and cleaned the decks and disappeared into the trees above the sea.