Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him— The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did—made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
Mark Jarman - 1952-
To raise a stump of rock into a tower, rolling a stone in place as the years pass. Strangers who only know your silhouette bid it farewell and travel to Japan, Cross China, venture into India, to Europe, and, changed by time and space, Sail home over the bulging eye of ocean only to see, when landfall looms in view, The stump of rock--your tower--on the headland, and you there, rolling a stone in place, The edifice apparently no taller, as if each night you had dismantled it And every day had raised it up again. To know, only in completion, the nisus That dominates the spider when it spins, the bird building its nest, the gray whale Turning toward Mexico and the sea lion clambering up shingle toward its mate-- The nisus of cairn-building, rock-piling, mortaring stone has dominated you. It dominates the reader bent above the book, poised like a stork hunting; like sleep, It is an utter unity of will and action, known--at least by man or woman-- Only when it is over. And when the work is over--tower building, poem writing-- You hear gulls cry and see them kiting at the bull terrier out in the garden. He has snatched up some strip of bloody fur they meant to mince with beaks. Best to detach it From his jaws, let gulls eat refuse like that. Go out into the damp twilight, feel The chill along the arms, through cloth, and take the petty morsel from the pet dog, toss it To the scolding gulls, down the rocky bank beyond the garden. And lead the dog to food Inside the kitchen. Enter, expecting to see the woman, the two sons, and your place at table, Waiting. And find you are alone. Even the dog at heel-- vanished. The stone house Glumly dark and a dumb cold coming from its walls, that only whiskey cuts. The cold and dark conceal much, and memory must be evoked to penetrate them. Meanwhile, they are the elements that starlight loves. Clear cold, pure darkness, outside the window, Beside the guestbed, where you have planned to lie at last, viewing the pure, clear stars without Obstruction by the crude suburban dwellings--that absurd roof, down there, like a coal scoop, And the spite fences either side your property. Nothing in creation shows More the supreme indifference to humanity, despite the patterns of the zodiac. The stars, like bits of crystal ground into a griststone's granite rim, are small themselves. Only the surrounding emptiness is great. Take comfort in the emptiness; lie down. The drink will help you sleep awhile alone, without her, until that section of the night You've come to know--that region you once sailed through peacefully, worn out by work and love. Now, stranded there till dawn, sleepless, it will not matter that you foresaw the planet's end Or our end on the planet. Only sleep will matter. At that hour, in those conditions, Just out of reach, receding like the dark itself as daylight pushes in, sleep only Will be the thing you want. Powerless to attain what you desire, yet bitterly Desiring at all costs. Perhaps, then, memory, not starlight, will intercede, And the stone house gather warmth from its hearth fire, and loved ones reappear, and you will sleep.