Imperfect

My native tongue doesn’t allow
imperfect tense, so it’s difficult
to say how something might used
to happen but no more. Elizabeth
used to walk among these trees.
She used to walk among these trees
but doesn’t anymore. Elizabeth
is no more though she used to be.

She doesn’t anymore but she used
to walk among these trees because
she used to be happy but only
for a short while before she descended
in despair. Elizabeth we could say
used to walk among these trees
because they made her happy.
Elizabeth used to be but no more.

Related Poems

Ordinary Time

Days come and go:
this bird by minute, hour by leaf,
a calendar of loss.

I shift through woods, sifting
the air for August cadences
and walk beyond the boundaries I’ve kept

for months, past loose stone walls,
the fences breaking into sticks,
the poems always spilling into prose.

A low sweet meadow full of stars
beyond the margin
fills with big-boned, steaming mares.

The skies above are bruised like fruit,
their juices running,
black-veined marble of regret.

The road gusts sideways:
sassafras and rue.
A warbler warbles.

Did I wake the night through?
Walk through sleeping?
Shuffle for another way to mourn?

Dawn pinks up.
In sparking grass I find beginnings.
I was cradled here.
I gabbled and I spun.
And gradually the many men inside me
found their names,

acquired definition, points of view.
There was much to say,
not all of it untrue.

As the faithful seasons fell away,
I followed till my thoughts
inhabited a tree of thorns

that grew in muck of my own making.
Yet I was lifted and laid bare.
I hung there weakly: crossed, crossed-out.

At first I didn’t know
a voice inside me speaking low.
I stumbled in my way.

But now these hours that can’t be counted
find me fresh, this ordinary time
like kingdom come.

In clarity of dawn,
I fill my lungs, a summer-full of breaths.
The great field holds the wind, and sways.

Thou in Time

With the mower passing over
the lawn this August morning

shirtless, lightheaded

it is such easy going, you just
push it along and the fresh swathe
follows after, good machine,

and what Mother called the smell of order
wafts up from the headless
plants

          around you, around you—

and who has no excuse like you, none?
You cry quietly, birdsong
occurring here and there, as you observe
the sun sinking
into the torn trunks

of trees…numbed on the porch
beneath the yellow porch light, you let
mosquitoes settle on your forearms, chest and throat
and drink deep
motionless, by the hundred

then you rub yourself, and cherry juice—

Please take pity,
speak to me,
come inside.

                    Look—
I am drinking the rose, now
I drink the thorns.

Aspen Tree

translated by Pierre Joris

Aspen tree, your leaves gaze white into the dark.
My mother’s hair ne’er turned white.

Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine.
My fair-haired mother did not come home.

Rain cloud, do you dally by the well?
My quiet mother weeps for all.

Round star, you coil the golden loop.
My mother’s heart was seared by lead.

Oaken door, who ripped you off your hinges?
My gentle mother cannot return.

 


Espenbaum

Espenbaum, dein Laub blickt weiß ins Dunkel.
Meiner Mutter Haar ward nimmer weiß.

Löwenzahn, so grün ist die Ukraine.
Meine blonde Mutter kam nicht heim.

Regenwolke, säumst du an den Brunnen?
Meine leise Mutter weint für alle.

Runder Stern, du schlingst die goldne Schleife.
Meiner Mutter Herz ward wund von Blei.

Eichne Tür, wer hob dich aus den Angeln?
Meine sanfte Mutter kann nicht kommen.