unfamiliar dawn


Donald Hall

Each of us waking to the window’s light
Has found the curtains changed, our pictures gone;
Our furniture has vanished in the night
And left us to an unfamiliar dawn,
Even the contours of our room are strange
And everything is change.
Waking, our minds construct of memory
What figure stretched beside us, or what voice
Shouted to call us from our luxury—
And all the mornings leaning to our choice.

To put away – both child and murderer –
The toys we played with just a month ago,
That wisdom come, and make our moving sure,
Began our exile with our lust to grow.
(Remembering a train I tore apart,
Because it knew my heart.)
We move and move, but only love the lost,
Perversity our master to the bone;
We search our minds for childhood, and are tossed
By fevers to rebuild a child unknown.

Not only from the intellectual child
Time has removed us, but unyieldingly
Cuts down the groves in which our Indians filed
And where the sleep of pines was mystery.
(I walked the streets of where I lived and grew,
And all the streets were new.)
The room of love is always rearranged;
Someone has torn the corner of a chair
So that the past we cultivate is changed,
Perfection mocked and answered by a tear.

Exiled by death from men that we have known,
We are betrayed again by years, and try
To call them back and clothe the barren bone,
Not to admit a man can ever die.
(A boy who talked and read and grew with me,
Fell from a maple tree.)
But we are still alone, who love the dead,
And always miss their action’s character,
Trapped in our cells of living, visited
By no sweet ghosts, by no sad men that were.

In years, and in the numbering of space
Thousands of miles from what we grew to know,
We stray like paper blown from place to place,
Impelled by every element to go.
(I think of haying on an August day,
Forking the stacks of hay.)
We can remember trees and attitudes
That foreign landscapes do not imitate,
Which flower in the fertile interludes
Of memory beneath a stranger state.

The favorite toy was banished, and our act
Was banishment of the self; then growing, we
Murdered the girls we loved, for our love lacked
Self-knowledge of our real perversity.
(I loved and then I put a sudden end,
Which age will never mend.)
It was mechanical, and in our age,
That cruelty should be our way of speech;
Our movement is a single pilgrimage,
Never returning; action does not teach.

In isolation from our present love
We spell her out in daily memory,
Thinking these images we practice move
On human avenues across a sea.
(All day I see her simple figure stand,
Out of the reach of hand.)
Each door and window is a spectral frame
In which her ghost is for the moment found;
Each scrap of paper has her magic name,
And when we sleep our magic has no bound.

Imagining, by exile kept from fact,
We build of distance mental rock and tree,
And make of memory creative act,
Persons and worlds no waking eye can see.
(From lacking her, I built her new again.
And loved the image then.)
The manufactured country is so green
The eyes of sleep are blinded by its shine;
We spend our lust in that imagined scene
But will not ever cross its borderline.

No man can knock his human fist upon
The door built by his mind, or hear the voice
He meditated come again if gone:
We live outside the country of our choice.
Leaning toward harvest, fullness as our end,
Our habits will not mend.
Our humanness betrays us to the cage
Within whose limits each is free to walk,
But where no man can hear our prayers or rage,
And none of us can break the walls to talk.

Exiled by years, by death the present end,
By worlds that must remain unvisited,
And by the wounds that growing does not mend,
We are as solitary as the dead,
Wanting to king it in that perfect land
We make and understand.
And in this world whose pattern is unmade,
Cocoons of splintered light and shapeless sand,
We shatter through our motions and evade
Whatever hand might reach and touch our hand.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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