Poem from Hölderlin

- 1952-
As from dark orchard leaves, from quiet scripts
where each shape sends its tendril reaching—
circle and line, the swaddled bud, the petiole 
sprung, an envelope tendered.
					
By a window, the infant 
turns, rooting
toward the breast,
                     sun-lit, 
the mother humming.
(Those far things, sources 
of power and
regret,
cliffs and waves, 
continue
at a distance.)
					
           Here you’ll find
a name scrawled in the bark—
last words, left to chance
and strangers.
            There, the black ant, burdened 
by a crumb, and the weight
of her lacquered armor,
crossing—climbing,
switching, doubling 
back—gnarl and crevice and 
cul de sac.
					
            Pinch-waisted, 
driven on, and trembling,
does she have a notion 
of her own, or is it 
only species 
memory—so
fearless, so abstract?
					
because it is winter everywhere, 
            I spin my cocoon
            I dig my heart a grave
					
Indifferent, a blossom 
drifting, the knob swelling, 
the leaf turned to
shadow: filigree, smudged. 
The petiole now brittle in 
the first cold nights.
                        The burden, relieved, 
weighs all the more
from the guilt 
of its release.
					
Too light, too light, like a sudden 
waking, the sun in your eyes: 
you cannot see for it.			
				
How long will we live 
in this leaf-strewn place, 
thinking we belong
to the sky?

More by Susan Stewart

Yellow Stars and Ice


I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds
and you are as far as the deepest root and wound, 
and I am as far as a train at evening, 
as far as a whistle you can't hear or remember. 
You are as far as an unimagined animal 
who, frightened by everything, never appears. 
I am as far as cicadas and locusts
and you are as far as the cleanest arrow 
that has sewn the wind to the light on 
the birch trees. I am as far as the sleep of rivers 
that stains the deepest sky between clouds, 
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

You are as far as a red-marbled stream 
where children cut their feet on the stones 
and cry out. And I am as far as their happy 
mothers, bleaching new linen on the grass 
and singing, "You are as far as another life, 
as far as another life are you."
And I am as far as an infinite alphabet 
made from yellow stars and ice, 
and you are as far as the nails of the dead man, 
as far as a sailor can see at midnight 
when he's drunk and the moon is an empty cup, 
and I am as far as invention and you are as far as memory.

I am as far as the corners of a room where no one 
has ever spoken, as far as the four lost corners 
of the earth. And you are as far as the voices 
of the dumb, as the broken limbs of saints 
and soldiers, as the scarlet wing of the suicidal 
blackbird, I am farther and farther away from you. 
And you are as far as a horse without a rider 
can run in six years, two months and five days.
I am as far as that rider, who rubs his eyes with
his blistered hands, who watches a ghost don his
jacket and boots and now stands naked in the road.
As far as the space between word and word, 
as the heavy sleep of the perfectly loved 
and the sirens of wars no one living can remember, 
as far as this room, where no words have been spoken, 
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

The Forest

You should lie down now and remember the forest, 
for it is disappearing--
no, the truth is it is gone now 
and so what details you can bring back 
might have a kind of life.

Not the one you had hoped for, but a life
--you should lie down now and remember the forest--
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
no the truth is, it is gone now,
starting somewhere near the beginning, that edge,

Or instead the first layer, the place you remember 
(not the one you had hoped for, but a life)
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
which we can never drift above, we were there or we were not,

No surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
or instead the first layer, the place you remember, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
like a light left hand descending, always on the same keys.

The flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before 
no surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
where wide swatches of light slice between gray trunks,

Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
the flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before:
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds. 
They sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
though high in the dry leaves something does fall,

Nothing comes down to us here. 
Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
(in that place where I was raised) the forest was tangled, 
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds, 
tangled with brambles, soft-starred and moving, ferns

And the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
nothing comes down to us here, 
stained. A low branch swinging above a brook 
in that place where I was raised, the forest was tangled, 
and a cave just the width of shoulder blades.

You can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry--
and the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
as a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there 
(. . .pokeberry, stained. A low branch swinging above a brook) 
in a place that is something like a forest.

But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered 
(you can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry) 
by pliant green needles, there below the piney fronds, 
a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there. 
And quickening below lie the sharp brown blades,

The disfiguring blackness, then the bulbed phosphorescence of the roots. 
But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered, 
so strangely alike and yet singular, too, below
the pliant green needles, the piney fronds.
Once we were lost in the forest, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, 
but the truth is, it is, lost to us now.

Related Poems

The Passing of the Hours

The hours steal by with still, unasking lips—
     So lightly that I cannot hear their tread;
And softly touch me with their finger-tips
     To find if I be dreaming, or be dead.

And yet however still their flight may be,
     Their ceaseless going weights my heart with tears;
These touches will have wrought deep scars on me—
     When the light hours have worn to heavy years.