I never claimed night fathered me. that was my dead brother talking in his sleep. I keep him under my pillow, a dear wish that colors my laughing and crying. I never said the wind, remembering nothing, leaves so many rooms unaccounted for, continual farewell must ransom the unmistakable fragrance our human days afford. It was my brother, little candle in the pulpit, reading out loud to all of earth from the book of night. He died too young to learn his name. Now he answers to Vacant Boat, Burning Wing, My Black Petal. Ask him who his mother is. He'll declare the birds have eaten the path home, but each of us joins night's ongoing story wherever night overtakes him, the heart astonished to find belonging and thanks answering thanks. Ask if he's hungry or thirsty, he'll say he's the bread come to pass and draw you a map to the twelve secret hips of honey. Does someone want to know the way to spring? He'll remind you the flower was never meant to survive the fruit's triumph. He says an apple's most secret cargo is the enduring odor of a human childhood, our mother's linen pressed and stored, our father's voice walking through the rooms. He says he's forgiven our sister for playing dead and making him cry those afternoons we were left alone in the house. And when clocks frighten me with their long hair, and when I spy the wind's numerous hands in the orchard unfastening first the petals from the buds, then the perfume from the flesh, my dead brother ministers to me. His voice weighs nothing but the far years between stars in their massive dying, and I grow quiet hearing how many of both of our tomorrows lie waiting inside it to be born.
A Celebration of Death and Life--English 223
I always thought death would be like traveling in a car, moving through the desert, the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon, that your life would settle like the end of a day and you would think of everyone you ever met, that you would be the invisible passenger, quiet in the car, moving through the night, forever, with the beautiful thought of home.
I Complacencies of the peignoir, and late Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, And the green freedom of a cockatoo Upon a rug mingle to dissipate The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. She dreams a little, and she feels the dark Encroachment of that old catastrophe, As a calm darkens among water-lights. The pungent oranges and bright, green wings Seem things in some procession of the dead, Winding across wide water, without sound. The day is like wide water, without sound, Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet Over the seas, to silent Palestine, Dominion of the blood and sepulchre. II Why should she give her bounty to the dead? What is divinity if it can come Only in silent shadows and in dreams? Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else In any balm or beauty of the earth, Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven? Divinity must live within herself: Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow; Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued Elations when the forest blooms; gusty Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; All pleasures and all pains, remembering The bough of summer and the winter branch. These are the measures destined for her soul. III Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind He moved among us, as a muttering king, Magnificent, would move among his hinds, Until our blood, commingling, virginal, With heaven, brought such requital to desire The very hinds discerned it, in a star. Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be The blood of paradise? And shall the earth Seem all of paradise that we shall know? The sky will be much friendlier then than now, A part of labor and a part of pain, And next in glory to enduring love, Not this dividing and indifferent blue. IV She says, "I am content when wakened birds, Before they fly, test the reality Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings; But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields Return no more, where, then, is paradise?" There is not any haunt of prophecy, Nor any old chimera of the grave, Neither the golden underground, nor isle Melodious, where spirits gat them home, Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured As April's green endures; or will endure Like her remembrance of awakened birds, Or her desire for June and evening, tipped By the consummation of the swallow's wings. V She says, "But in contentment I still feel The need of some imperishable bliss." Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams And our desires. Although she strews the leaves Of sure obliteration on our paths, The path sick sorrow took, the many paths Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love Whispered a little out of tenderness, She makes the willow shiver in the sun For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet. She causes boys to pile new plums and pears On disregarded plate. The maidens taste And stray impassioned in the littering leaves. VI Is there no change of death in paradise? Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, With rivers like our own that seek for seas They never find, the same receding shores That never touch with inarticulate pang? Why set the pear upon those river-banks Or spice the shores with odors of the plum? Alas, that they should wear our colors there, The silken weavings of our afternoons, And pick the strings of our insipid lutes! Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, Within whose burning bosom we devise Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. VII Supple and turbulent, a ring of men Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn Their boisterous devotion to the sun, Not as a god, but as a god might be, Naked among them, like a savage source. Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, Out of their blood, returning to the sky; And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, The windy lake wherein their lord delights, The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, That choir among themselves long afterward. They shall know well the heavenly fellowship Of men that perish and of summer morn. And whence they came and whither they shall go The dew upon their feet shall manifest. VIII She hears, upon that water without sound, A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine Is not the porch of spirits lingering. It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay." We live in an old chaos of the sun, Or old dependency of day and night, Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, Of that wide water, inescapable. Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; And, in the isolation of the sky, At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make Ambiguous undulations as they sink, Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
Putting up new curtains, other windows intrude. As though it is that first winter in Cambridge when you and I had just moved in. Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen. What does it mean if I say this years later? Listen, last night I am on a crying jag with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta. I sneaked in two cats. He screams, "No pets! No pets!" I become my Aunt Virginia, proud but weak in the head. I remember Anna Magnani. I throw a few books. I shout. He wipes his eyes and opens his hands. OK OK keep the dirty animals but no nails in the walls. We cry together. I am so nervous, he says. I want to dig you up and say, look, it's like the time, remember, when I ran into our living room naked to get rid of that fire inspector. See what you miss by being dead?
Nor the strip of light between the slats, the window itself blind with grief. Nor the bench where the last mourner lingers, the others on to the next thing, leaning into the bar, toasting the sweethearts, gone and gone, their passion and ire softening now into the earth. Nor the bluff above the Mississippi where centuries of war dead rest, where the stone stands bearing their names, the wind of romance hard against it.
People have been trying to kill me since I was born, a man tells his son, trying to explain the wisdom of learning a second tongue. It's the same old story from the previous century about my father and me. The same old story from yesterday morning about me and my son. It's called "Survival Strategies and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation." It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons," called "The Child Who'd Rather Play than Study." Practice until you feel the language inside you, says the man. But what does he know about inside and outside, my father who was spared nothing in spite of the languages he used? And me, confused about the flesh and soul, who asked once into a telephone, Am I inside you? You're always inside me, a woman answered, at peace with the body's finitude, at peace with the soul's disregard of space and time. Am I inside you? I asked once lying between her legs, confused about the body and the heart. If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not, she answered, at peace with the body's greed, at peace with the heart's bewilderment. It's an ancient story from yesterday evening called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora," called "Loss of the Homeplace and the Defilement of the Beloved," called "I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs."
After I've goosed up the fire in the stove with Starter Logg so that it burns like fire on amphetamines; after it's imprisoned, screaming and thrashing, behind the stove door; after I've listened to the dead composers and watched the brown-plus-gray deer compose into Cubism the trees whose name I don't know (pine, I think); after I've holed up in my loneliness staring at the young buck whose two new antlers are like a snail's stalked eyes and I've let this conceit lead me to the eyes-on-stems of the faces of Picasso and from there to my dead father; after I've chased the deer away (they were boring, streamlined machines for tearing up green things, deer are the cows-of-the-forest); then I bend down over the sea of keys to write this poem about my father in his grave. It isn't easy. It's dark in my room, the door is closed, all around is creaking and sighing, as though I were in the hold of a big ship, as though I were in the dark sleep of a huge freighter toiling across the landscape of the waves taking me to my father with whom I have struggled like Jacob with the angel and who heaves off, one final time, the muddy counterpane of the earth and lies panting beside his grave like a large dog who has run a long way. This is as far as he goes. I stand at the very end of myself holding a shovel. The blade is long and cool; It is an instrument for organizing the world; the blade is drenched in shine, the air is alive along it, as air is alive on the windshield of a car. Beside me my father droops as though he were under anesthesia. He is so thin, and he doesn't have a coat. My left hand grows cool and sedate under the influence of his flesh. It hesitates and then... My father drops in like baggage into a hold. In his hands, written on my stationery, a note I thought of xeroxing: Dad, I will be with you, through the cold, dark, closed places you hated. I close the hinged lid, and above him I heap a firmament of dirt. The body alone, in the dark, in the cold, without a coat. I would not wish that on my greatest enemy. Which, in a sense, my father was.
Even this late it happens: the coming of love, the coming of light. You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, sending up warm bouquets of air. Even this late the bones of the body shine and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.
Rain commenced, and wind did. A crippled ship slid ashore. Our swimmer's limbs went heavy. The sand had been flattened. The primary dune, the secondary dune, both leveled. The maritime forest, extracted. Every yard of the shore was shocked with jellyfish. The blue pillow of the man o' war empty in the afterlight. The threads of the jellyfish, spent. Disaster weirdly neatened the beach. We cultivated the debris field. Castaway trash, our treasure. Jewel box, spoon ring, sack of rock candy. A bicycle exoskeleton without wheels, grasshopper green. Our dead ten speed. We rested in red mangrove and sheltered in sheets. Our bruises blushed backwards, our blisters did. is it true is it true God help us we tried to stay shattered but we just got better. We grew adept, we caught the fish as they fled. We skinned the fish, our knife clicked like an edict. We were harmed, and then we healed.