Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Before and Every After

                                   —in memory


Eventually one dreams the real thing.

The cave as it was, what we paid to straddle
one skinny box-turned-seat down the middle, narrow boat
made special for the state park, the wet, the tricky

passing into rock and underground river.

A single row of strangers faced front, each of us
behind another close
as dominoes to fall or we were angels lined up
politely, pre-flight, like that was
a coffin we rode, the go-to, take-out end of it,

a shipping container for a giant.

Now every after—
Not to embellish, but I count the ice age in this story
since its grinding made that cave.

I count us too, as mourners.

A smart, full-of-fun-facts park ranger poled us
past summer. A cool which meant dark, meaning
I pictured the giant in life before
he lay down in that boat

under the blood in us, under our breathing.

Upright, his long bones
and knobby joints. He slouched in a doorway
smoking cigarettes, talking What-Would-Bertram-Russell-Do
kindly and funny to the dumb
all of us who adored him, not dream and then dream.

Repeatedly, that thing about us adoring him.

The ranger pointed out the obvious
spare mob scene of caves: the endless drip to make
a stalactite, tiny crawfish and frogs transparent, hearts
by flashlight, visibly beating away.

We got quiet drifting deeper.

What does it mean, something over and over
with your eyes shut?

I remember us from before too,
from museums. I love us there still, the same
us, the way the ancient Egyptians kept their dead
safe crossing over, smallish
intricate models—who they were and even
their sorrow to scale—those
rowing tireless to the other side.

A boat the length of my forearm, faces
to freeze like that
forward, released, the blankest wonder though I think
we came back. Of course he did not

and could not, the giant I made up

for the passage. But all night, how the whole dream
grateful I was to others
patient, more steely practical with
things sacred, who took the real one across

hours before we got there.

Credit


Copyright @ 2014 by Marianne Boruch. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2014.

About this Poem


"'Before and Every After' is an elegy, which follows a real river through a real cave, a specific afternoon. Half-dreamt there too, a museum's small ancient Egyptian funerary boat, once tucked in a coffin to guide and make safe such a crossing. This is partly the nature of mourning, I think, and poetry, for that matter. Time and era give way and merge; the strange becomes solace."

—Marianne Boruch

Author


Marianne Boruch

Born on June 19, 1950, in Chicago, Marianne Boruch earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, where she studied with James Tate. She is the author of nine books of poems, including Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), Cadaver, Speak (Copper Canyon Press, 2014); The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Grace, Fallen from (Wesleyan University Press, 2010); and Poems: New and Selected (Oberlin College Press, 2004).

Exploring the essential in the mundane and everyday, Boruch’s poems are known for their precision, calm attention, and careful reserve. Poet David Young writes that Boruch isn’t “flamboyant or flashy, armored in theory or swimming with a school. Her poems eschew the need for stylistic eccentricity or surface mannerisms. They are contained, steady, and exceptionally precise. They build toward blazing insights with the utmost honesty and care."

An essayist as well as a poet, Boruch has also published the critical works The Little Death of Self (University of Michigan Press, 2017), In the Blue Pharmacy (Trinity University Press, 2005) and Poetry’s Old Air (University of Michigan Press, 1995), as well as a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana University Press, 2011).

Boruch has earned fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She has taught at Tunghai University in Taiwan and the University of Maine at Farmington. In 1987, she developed the creative writing MFA program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, serving as its first director until 2005, and she remains on the faculty today. Since 1988, she has also taught semi-regularly in the low-residency MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. She lives in West Lafayette, Indiana.


Bibliography

Poetry

Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) 
Cadaver, Speak (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)
Grace, Fallen from (Wesleyan University Press, 2010)
Poems: New and Selected (Oberlin College Press, 2004)
A Stick that Breaks and Breaks (Oberlin College Press, 1997)
Moss Burning (Oberlin College Press, 1995)
Descendant (Wesleyan University Press, 1989)
View from the Gazebo (Wesleyan University Press, 1985)

Nonfiction

The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana University Press, 2011)
In the Blue Pharmacy (Trinity University Press, 2005)
Poetry’s Old Air (University of Michigan Press, 1995)

Date Published: 2014-06-12

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/and-every-after