Slowly the passenger pigeons increased, then suddenly their numbersBecame enormous, they would flatten ten miles of forestWhen they flew down to roost, and the cloud of their risingEclipsed the dawns. They became too many, they are all deadNot one remains.And the American bison: their hordesWould hide a prairie from horizon to horizon, great heads and storm-cloud shoulders, a torrent of life –How many are left? For a time, for a few years, their bonesTurned the dark prairies white.You, Death, you watch for these things.These explosions of life: they are your food.They make your feasts.But turn your great rolling eyesaway from humanityThose grossly craving black eyes. It is true we increase.A man from Britain landing in Gaul when Romehad fallenHe journeyed fourteen days inland through that beautifulRich land, the orchards and rivers and the looted villas: he reports he sawNo living man. But now we fill the gaps.In spite of wars, famines and pestilences we are quite suddenlyThree billion people: our bones, ours too, would makeWide prairies white, a beautiful snow of unburied bones:Bones that have twitched and quivered in the nights of love,Bones that have shaken with laughter and hung slackin sorrow, coward bonesWorn out with trembling, strong bones broken on the rack,bones broken in battle,Broad bones gnarled with hard labor, and the little bonesof sweet young children, and the white empty skulls,Little carved ivory wine-jugs that used to containPassion and thought and love and insane delirium, where nowNot even worms liveRespect humanity, Death, theseshameless black eyes of yours,It is not necessary to take all at once – besides that,you cannot do it, we are too powerful,We are men, not pigeons; you may take the old, the uselessand helpless, the cancer-bitten and the tender young,But the human race has still history to make. For look – look nowAt our achievements: we have bridled the cloud-leaper lightning,a lion whipped by a man, to carry our messagesAnd work our will, we have snatched the thunderboltOut of God’s hands. Ha? That was little and last year –for now we have takenThe primal powers, creation and annihilation; we makenew elements, such as God never saw,We can explode atoms and annul the fragments, nothing leftbut pure energy, we shall use itIn peace and war – “Very clever,” he answered in his thin piping voice,Cruel and a eunuch.Roll those idiot black eyes of yoursOn the field-beasts, not on intelligent man,We are not in your order. You watched the dinosaursGrow into horror: they had been little elves in the ditchesand presently became enormous with leaping flanksAnd tearing teeth, plated with armor, nothing couldstand against them, nothing but you,Death, and they died. You watched the sabre-tooth tigersDevelop those huge fangs, unnecessary as our sciences,and presently they died. You have their bonesIn the oil-pits and layer rock, you will not have ours.With pain and wonder and labor we have bought intelligence.We have minds like the tusks of those forgotten tigers,. hypertrophied and terrible,We have counted the stars and half-understood them,we have watched the farther galaxies fleeing awayfrom us, wild herdsOf panic horses – or a trick of distance deceived by the prism –we outfly falcons and eagles and meteors,Faster than sound, higher than the nourishing air;we have enormous privilege, we do not fear you,We have invented the jet-plane and the death-bomband the cross of Christ – “Oh,” he said, “surelyYou’ll live forever” – grinning like a skull, covering his mouthwith his hand – “What could exterminate you?”
Here is an island. Here is a house on stilts.
A black log house,
With a window open wide.
Green waves wash up to it,
But no one lives inside,
Not for many years.
Only I live here,
To cook for meals,
And I have lived for thousands of years.
But there where I used to live,
Where they used to love me,
They think that I have died,
They mourned and then forgot me.
But I live on and on …
under the thundering green,
I call my friends to meals
on a voiceless telephone.
Вот остров. Вот дом на сваях.
Черный бревенчатый дом
С раскрытым настежь окном.
Зеленые волны его омывают,
Но в нем никто не живет
Вот уж который год.
Лишь я одна здесь живу,
Сушу морскую траву,
Варю из нее обед
И мне уже тысячи лет.
А там, где я раньше жила,
Где раньше меня любили,
Решили, что я умерла,
Оплакали и позабыли.
А я все живу и живу…
Под грохот волны зеленой
Друзей на обед зову
По оглохшему телефону.
The Testing Tree
1On my way home from school up tribal Providence Hill past the Academy ballpark where I could never hope to play I scuffed in the drainage ditch among the sodden seethe of leaves hunting for perfect stones rolled out of glacial time into my pitcher's hand; then sprinted lickety- split on my magic Keds from a crouching start, scarcely touching the ground with my flying skin as I poured it on for the prize of the mastery over that stretch of road, with no one no where to deny when I flung myself down that on the given course I was the world's fastest human.
2Around the bend that tried to loop me home dawdling came natural across a nettled field riddled with rabbit-life where the bees sank sugar-wells in the trunks of the maples and a stringy old lilac more than two stories tall blazing with mildew remembered a door in the long teeth of the woods. All of it happened slow: brushing the stickseed off, wading through jewelweed strangled by angel's hair, spotting the print of the deer and the red fox's scats. Once I owned the key to an umbrageous trail thickened with mosses where flickering presences gave me right of passage as I followed in the steps of straight-backed Massassoit soundlessly heel-and-toe practicing my Indian walk.
3Past the abandoned quarry where the pale sun bobbed in the sump of the granite, past copperhead ledge, where the ferns gave foothold, I walked, deliberate, on to the clearing, with the stones in my pocket changing to oracles and my coiled ear tuned to the slightest leaf-stir. I had kept my appointment. There I stood in the shadow, at fifty measured paces, of the inexhaustible oak, tyrant and target, Jehovah of acorns, watchtower of the thunders, that locked King Philip's War in its annulated core under the cut of my name. Father wherever you are I have only three throws bless my good right arm. In the haze of afternoon, while the air flowed saffron, I played my game for keeps-- for love, for poetry, and for eternal life-- after the trials of summer.
4In the recurring dream my mother stands in her bridal gown under the burning lilac, with Bernard Shaw and Bertie Russell kissing her hands; the house behind her is in ruins; she is wearing an owl's face and makes barking noises. Her minatory finger points. I pass through the cardboard doorway askew in the field and peer down a well where an albino walrus huffs. He has the gentlest eyes. If the dirt keeps sifting in, staining the water yellow, why should I be blamed? Never try to explain. That single Model A sputtering up the grade unfurled a highway behind where the tanks maneuver, revolving their turrets. In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn. I am looking for the trail. Where is my testing-tree? Give me back my stones!
Love is Not All
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again; Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; Yet many a man is making friends with death Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution's power, I might be driven to sell your love for peace, Or trade the memory of this night for food. It well may be. I do not think I would.
Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash
I only go back to where I was raised to celebrate
or mourn. It is getting hard to tell the difference between
funerals and weddings. Laughing and crying look the
same from a distance. There are long meaningful
embraces at both. I wear the same suit,
only the tie changes. We raise the first glass of the night
to a memory no matter what. The only difference?
Whether or not there will be fewer of us next time.
Like a twentieth-century dream of Europe—all
horrors, and pastries—some part of me, for all time
stands in a short skirt in a hospital cafeteria line, with a tray, while
in another glittering tower named
for the world’s richest man
my mother, who is dying, never dies.
with one wing
in Purgatory, flying in circles.)
I wake up decades later, having dreamt I was crying.
My alarm clock seconds away
from its own alarm.
I wake up to its silence
at the same hour. The daughter
of the owner of the laundromat
has washed my sheets in tears
and the soldiers marching across some flowery field in France
bear their own soft pottery in their arms—heart, lung, abdomen.
And the orderlies and the nurses and their clattering
carts roll on and on. In a tower. In a cloud. In a cafeteria line.
See, cold spy for time, who needs you now?
Having No Mind for the Same Poem
Not for the same conversation again and again.
But the power of meditation to cure an allergy,
that I will discuss
cross-legged on the lawn at evening
midges flittering, a tree beside us
none of us can name;
and rocks, a scent of syringa;
certain Japanese questions; the journey…
Not for parody.
Nor, if we come to it, for the same letter:
‘hard to believe…I remember best his laugh…
such a vigorous man…please tell…’
and running, almost running to stuff coins
into the box for cancer research.
Nor for the same hopeless prayer.
–Elfriede Jelinekapril breathof boyish redthe tongue crushesstrawberry dreamshack away woundand wound the fountainand on the mouthperspiration whitefrom someone’s necka little toothhas bit the fingerof the bride thetabby yellow and serehowlsthe red boyfrom the gable fliesan animal hearkensin his white throathis juice runs downpigeon thighsa pale sweet spikestill sticksin woman whitelardan april breathof boyish red