In Particular

- 1892-1982

What loin-cloth, what rag of wrong
Unpriced?
What turn of body, what of lust
Undiced?
So we’ve worshipped you a little
More than Christ.

More by Djuna Barnes

The Dreamer

The night comes down, in ever-darkening shapes that seem—
To grope, with eerie fingers for the window—then—
To rest to sleep, enfolding me, as in a dream
            Faith—might I awaken!
 
And drips the rain with seeming sad, insistent beat.
Shivering across the pane, drooping tear-wise,
And softly patters by, like little fearing feet.
            Faith—this weather!
 
The feathery ash is fluttered; there upon the pane,—
The dying fire casts a flickering ghostly beam,—
Then closes in the night and gently falling rain.
            Faith—what darkness!

Call of the Night

Dark, and the wind-blurred pines,
           With a glimmer of light between.
Then I, entombed for an hourless night
           With the world of things unseen.

Mist, the dust of flowers,
           Leagues, heavy with promise of snow,
And a beckoning road ‘twixt vale and hill,
           With the lure that all must know.

A light, my window’s gleam,
           Soft, flaring its squares of red—
I loose the ache of the wilderness
           And long for the fire instead.

You too know, old fellow?
           Then, lift your head and bark.
It’s just the call of the lonesome place,
           The winds and the housing dark.
 

From Third Avenue On

And now she walks on out turned feet
Beside the litter in the street
Or rolls beneath a dirty sheet
       Within the town.
She does not stir to doff her dress,
She does not kneel low to confess,
A little conscience, no distress
       And settles down.

Ah God! she settles down we say;
It means her powers slip away
It means she draws back day by day
       From good or bad.
And so she looks upon the floor
Or listens at an open door
Or lies her down, upturned to snore
       Both loud and sad.

Or sits beside the chinaware,
Sits mouthing meekly in a chair,
With over-curled, hard waving hair
       Above her eyes.
Or grins too vacant into space—
A vacant space is in her face—
Where nothing came to take the place
       Of high hard cries.

Or yet we hear her on the stairs
With some few elements of prayers,
Until she breaks it off and swears
       A loved bad word.
Somewhere beneath her hurried curse,
A corpse lies bounding in a hearse;
And friends and relatives disperse,
       And are not stirred.

Those living dead up in their rooms
Must note how partial are the tombs,
That take men back into their wombs
       While theirs must fast.
And those who have their blooms in jars
No longer stare into the stars,
Instead, they watch the dinky cars—
       And live aghast.

Related Poems

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.