Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Elegy for My Father in a Time of War
They call the blossom nature, which opens in its time
and fades, then dries and falls upon the garden’s loom.
They call the start of life the hope of all, they listen to
the squall of cries and tears, they listen and admire the man.
They watch in admiration as the mother grows. They call
the waiting upon life a goal and joy. They start as bold.
They end in praise of all that merit honor in the fold.
They part as strangers, once again, who once knew kin.
They wend from their father’s white-sheeted deathbed,
as from his cover of leaves, as from the burial in snow of all his years.
Parsimonious and abundant nature, to hide so many
in your folds, then sprinkle them to ground like sparks
of your eternal fire. Every one of them an ember held
against the cold of darkness and the void. Oh breath
which suffocates, oh hiss of that extinguishing
complaint. Oh wisp of smoke that rises from the pyre
of each lost mite of coal, from each of life’s
once heralded new stars. Oh passing of comets,
Oh speeding of meteors. What is the grief
of their purpose? What is the gain of our loss?
There on the farmer’s field goes one who lost a son
when only four. Nothing explains it to him, not the wheat,
nor the cow lolling by the gate. She is mute to her own grief
and eyes him with a regal glance. The moonlight rising
over winter’s ghostly land will not explain to him, nor us,
of what the son lay dying, and why, with language set,
he asked his father and his mother for a bath in snow.
How can the world not grow weary of her loss?
Or of the parents of the soldier gone to war and never found,
how is that to be recorded here? That it is meaningful
for soldiers to be lost? Its meaning is pain,
and the forgetting of his future, and the future of the living.
How can you stars withstand your own longevity,
when here below we near immortals fail to match
such eternities as you revolve around us, keeping your
observances in season, watching us below enact our hopes
and failings. Still you shine, still you burn, still you stand
in constellations we have named, pretending you are like us
constituted into tribes, totemic of some mythic human, or,
in other cases, animal. Swan, bear, wolf, dragon, rabbit,
fish, dolphin, crab, scorpion, hunter, twin, goat, ram,
horse, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Sagittarius, Virgin –
of what do you speak up there? Of what do we imagine
you would speak? And in our spaceships up we’ve gone
as if to listen, and to meet you, someone like you, something
other than the short lives we have known. Up there in heaven
they are living the ambrosial lives of Xanadu. There is Alph
the sacred river, pouring its milk across the sky in summer,
and we too blinded by city and street lights to see any more
that our spectators are dim, if infinite -- though on a clear, dark
night, they blaze down cold and gleaming, near enough to touch.
There they listen to the farmer’s groan, as he drags some iron hitch
behind him for the loam. To him the bull means something, of you
stars, and how it rides into the sky, then ruts the earth on leaving,
followed by the seven sisters in their quilting bee, their gossipy
brittle faintness, their closeness healing them unlike the men,
unlike himself or any sons of his, or fathers, or groups of men
who come to buy the farmer out, when the farm has failed.
Auctions are a death, but not the death of men. Men die of time,
of simple things unchecked, of little money or too much,
of dreams unfashioned, or of dreamers all too much. They have died
after lovers died before them, or after parents, one then two,
Or brother by brother, sister by sister, aunt by aunt, uncle by uncle,
cousin, nephew, classmate. Sometimes a car going fast
along the farm road squeals, hits a tree and breaks apart, and
all one finds are sorrows in the wreckage; one can cry at that
before the relatives show up. Motion is a raging thing. Once gone,
it lapses into shock. As if somewhere the sound of wheels continue
on, and vanish safely in the distance. The going out, the coming in,
are all our mothers care about; fathers, too. The one paces,
worried all the night, the other lies awake in bed, pretending sleep.
In later years the wife berates the husband for his sleeping, while she wept.
He didn’t sleep, either, he answers. And what good it did. They lost the life
they gained that was to have replaced them at the wheel, the till,
the quilt’s corner. They were to thread it all so far, and then retire.
The rows of corn would then arise by solar magic, and the lunar
practice of changeable sons. Man against soil, man against weather,
man against drought, man against pestilence, man against loan,
man against bank, man against tax, man against market, man against
man. Then they would fashion a better thresher, call it war, and send
them. Farmer’s boys, or fishermen to ship them, or city boys to fly
them -- somewhere there would be only eating and vomiting, but no
planting, nor sowing. All the dead would be for purposes of history.
All the dead, all the dead, all the dead, all the dead, all the dead
would weary them of any counting, any feeling, any turning to
the sick fact of death at all. Death would tire of its very name.
They would make it a cliché, they would mass produce it, they
would build a new kind of silo in the fields beyond the farm
and fill them not with wheat, but with missiles set to go off and
incinerate whole cities. They would make it a common thing
not to want to think about death at all any more. It would open
too many graves, too many addresses would have to be looked up.
It would cause too much thinking, or not enough. It would not be
thinking that is even any good, not like the one death in a car too fast,
and the young couple, 16 and 17, found thrown from the front seat
of a car without headlights, racing over country lanes in moonlight,
their hands tight in each other’s, or maybe kissing and then not,
or screaming “I love you,” even as they could not. Darkness
and snow equals light. And the light of the sky. And the light
of the stars. And the light of the moon. And the lowing of the cow.
Ice groans in the creek and snaps. The farmer groans in his tackle.
The barn is dark and warm. Huddled inside are the sacred family,
some of which are painted above on the sky. They bleat and clack
and moo and snort. They are patient in the building made for them,
and patient in their own unhappy lives, surrounded by the endings
of their kind. Pigs to the slaughter, eggs from the chickens, milk
from the cows, wool from the sheep, labor from the horse, slavery
from all, death at the end. Death for credit. Life for debt.
Mortal, I am speaking with you of your span, of the bridge you set
between the two oblivions you know nothing of. I am speaking
for you and your brood, of how it is you fall from the bread you reap.
How do you fall to the floor, and rise up, unconscious at all of the joy
that first conceived you? Years will go by before you will know
any of that secret, and then you will fly to it yourself; a little further on
and you’ll be married, or divorced, or childless, or with family,
or one of those entrusted to remain behind, or mortal as a poet,
or a painter of truths, or a writer, or a preacher who will spin the meaning
out from pulpits for the Sunday best. Oh he will shout against the truth
with his own dead reckoning, his leader behind him executed on the cross
and faith withstanding once that blow of death, he cometh down and walks
for forty days and forty nights, then ascends the air like fictions do and lives
to earn us all eternal life upon our faith in Him. That’s the story one
would have to live by, seeing what we see. That or the unconscious.
That or grief on grief. In the end, we haven’t quite outshone them:
The stars in their processions. The saints in their Lives. They endure,
while we pass on. The graveyards raise their white tongues up.
“I didn’t believe, yet here I am,” cries one. Another, “The Devil took me!”
A third, “I went to Sunday School and slept through it.” “And now look.
“And now look! And now look!” Traveller, pass them by, even those
who prayed their way to heaven. Ask them and they cannot tell
of where they went before they came to earth. Easier to tell
the dreams of last night, or memories of yesterday. Is life one day,
and then another? Are we bound for Nepal? Are we to awaken
as mosquitoes or flies, or great birds in the Amazon, or wiser men
and women? Are we Buddha bound, or Resurrection bound, or bound
to come before the court of Justice that will find us wanting,
and every sentence retroactive death? How comes the sentence
before the trial? Are we rehearsing all our lost cases in our conscience?
What benefit that we shall always fail the test and die?
Who indeed is rising up this morning filled with hope?
What extraordinary man or child, or woman, thinks today
is perfect, and so escapes the sentence of our nature?
I would commune with the ghosts and spirits, if they would.
I would return their hosts to the table at evening. I would ask
them advice, ask them to sit at councils designed for peace,
ask them to lead the misled, bring back the chances they lost,
solve the riddles of our dominions and our envies,
share the world equally for all, keep kindness alive
that it may defeat hatred. I would ask them for a new oratory
capable of raising us from hatred, capable of miracles,
capable of explaining all to all, capable of consoling us
in the face of death. I would ask for the key to life
and open life. I would say to the man in the street, life is opened.
Shut it not away. If it was secreted in arts, and letters,
you are now to open it from your hearts. Its files are here,
and not to be destroyed. Its secrets are to be enjoyed,
not envied, not scorned, not stolen for oneself, but granted all.
And it would tell us money is not life. It would tell us life
is free, not bound. It would tell us not to grieve the past.
There is no past, as there is no future.
The secret of life is in the weaving. The secret of life
is in the harness. The secret of life is in the kissing,
not in the car’s destruction, or the snow. How would I know?
I do not know the place the key is stored. I could not raise
the ghosts. I could not talk for them. I am alone in time.
Time, you river of dry things, you bringer of seasons,
you herald of births, you timer of deaths; what are you doing,
measuring my words as I speak, giving them field,
making them audible as sense and sweetly flowing through
their silences? What are you doing in everything, turning
the petal over, bringing the wasp, flying the bird and its music
up from the south? How are you made the companion of all?
How do you walk with us, like the moon walks with children?
How do you not take mercy, but say, eventually, enough?
Aren’t you God enough? Can you not last? Are you bored by us,
and take instead another brood ahead? Your roads go everywhere
one way. Why not back to childhood? Why only as a memory
are you entertained again? Why not the place and time for real?
Ellision, Ellysium, you have come for us and pulled yourself up
in tatters to depart. Your clothes and raiments fall from you
and yet you gather up the next new things, the fashions yet unmade,
the fames unknown that will eclipse the past. How hasty is your newness
and your squalor. Forgetful creation, you are like the old,
old spinster making fictions up, of all her children grown up and moved
away. How do you spin so many things away, and yet discover more?
How shall we remember all your fine forgettings?
Graveyard of tombstones grinning up to stars. Written, etched with doves,
with hearts and capitals. Graveyards guarding settlements at
their outskirts. What are you conducting in your markets?
Are you another battlement of our struggle? Who visits you
besides poets, and grieving families? Are you the waylayers
of other spirits, good or bad? Do you entreaty with the God
of the North star? Do you parley amongst yourselves on our behalf?
Have you your purposes above and before us? Have you
remembered all the past, before you lived, before we knew your lives?
Have the ghosts the answers we shall one day know ourselves?
What is the kindergarten we call History? Must it resemble
anything more real? Have we all reality under way?
Is there nothing more, or are we only blind to what we have?
Time, time as you run, time as you dry your rivers
and open others. How can we embank your flow? How can we store
the running away of you? How can we trap the present?
Running, running after someone, running after oneself,
are all impossible. We are impossible to still. We would be still
in solemnities, in churches, in the stillings of meditations,
in the Christenings, and the weddings, and the funerals
by which we still delay in time the most inevitable of matters.
Why are we given to still the moment? Why are we given some
control of time, and yet not all? Why are we capable of healing
and coming back from the edge of death and living once again,
but eventually not? Why can we malinger and not choose?
Oh caravans that show no mercy. Oh bodies that lumber onward,
pioneers of the past, seedlings of the future. Onward only,
Onward. I am tired and can only pause. What is the way ahead?
What is coming for this long travail of troubles?
What redemption is ahead for all this woe?
Species which have gone before and folded into death,
or folded into us by some conclusion of their strife,
we have the answer to their question, gone as they are.
The answer is their going out like the candle’s flame.
We have no answer for their passing. We have only them
to know of time. They mark the passing of time, in clocks
of stone. We cannot understand why. We can only count.
All of the friends we lost, all of them strangers; all strangers, friends.
Come with the cowling of thought, come with the brow pursed;
come to a figuring of the way, and the communion of earth.
Come to the promontory of time and it is you on the edge,
the ever spreading star of time innumerably radiant with leads,
each one a living being, each one a thought of self, each extending
to the next tomorrow. How can all send its shoot like leaves spreading,
as unconscious of each other as the earth of the moon’s far side?
Only the thought of all is embracing of the all of us. Only the thought
extensive from the self, portrays the distant grief of enemies, the loss
of tribes, the loss of disease, the passing of languages still untaught in schools.
Only the thought can move the speech of one of us to raise the thoughts
of others. Only the thought of time can make us reckon with its cost.
How did the ten-cornered house appear on the cornerless earth?
How did geometry ruin the circle of return? How are we not in orbit
from our first day to our last? When did the ideal of a round clock break
into the yardstick called Fate? So far and no farther. A bridge without curve.
A life of all purpose, and no reprieve. For that is our solace at night,
the next day’s purpose. That is our trouble, the day’s urgent goad.
Plenty of time is a bore. Plenty of anything is madness. Plenty of this
and time will go running from here looking for music.
Pots on the wheel turn around; they show their beginning and end
in unity of form. We turn on the wheel of days, and show our beginning
and end in a unity of form. I must bring us to an accord with that form,
and yet I rebel. That is not form; it is hollow; it stays only in thought,
like the arc of a flashlight in summer, or the streak of a firefly.
The moving light is gone, a phantom, a spark.
Speak to me only of the endurance of stars. Speak to me of longevity.
Speak to me from the divinity of things permanent, monuments,
lives outliving life. Give me a sense of lastingness. Call me before
the ancestors of my line. Have me interview their earliest member
in the presence of the latest. What have we marshaled? Why have we come?
Was the prettiness of the girl, or the handsomeness of the boy,
not the reason we talk? Was it not only this sublimity,
was it not only this desire, to be close to the other temperament,
to be close to someone, and so companioned, protected from the wind,
and the element of time. So in their circles love completed itself,
and in this way formed round forms, created children, prompted them
along, discovered self, completed self again, recovered love
from thoughts of youth, not old age; life, not death. Oh I have lost
the start of life in losing one I love. The fabric torn asunder,
night howls in with starless oblivion. Pain is the pain of longing
never to be rewarded, the most unrequited love, the most full relation
unrelated, unforgotten, undone, unspent, unspooled, uncreated.
Dogs still loved are missed at the gate’s enclosure. Men still loved
are not remembered by the dog they buried. Or would they be,
if they could from somewhere else than here?
Oh far-away gone father, how have you taken your leave,
and the leaving of others, the leave-takings never accomplished?
Where can the last handshake, the last kiss, ever be found in time?
When can we ever remember well enough the last of our times together?
You who have gone ahead into oblivion, you who have taken your leave,
granting me life and instruction, what is your purpose in passing me,
in setting me on this path, lost in a while? Creating with time
and for purpose of others, travelers on a boat in the dark,
travelers who cling to each other, even the falling off,
even those lost in the wake. How can they howl enough
to live in their stead? How can they not rage
in the shake of their harness, the rattle of chains?
Come say to live, say to live. Yet they on their cares attended well
and spoke often of love, love to each other, love of forgiveness,
after lives of battle and war, lives of contempt and hate.
Love, love to the old man doddering; love to the eater of soup.
Love is the sop of the old, their new mewling, the cry of the babe.
What is to wisdom, if this is to hate opposed? When did they change?
What year of his life did he undo self? When did he turn round the wheel?
What opinion revolved around in him and turned him down to this?
Love, love in the morning, love in the noon of our days, love
in the evening, love in the night of our going. Love is a baby’s howl
for the comforts of life. Love is a young man’s howl for the act;
love is an old man’s howl for forgiveness, love is a howl of fear.
Love, you former of lives, you maker of time; love, you fearful desire
to be hidden in others. Love, you forgetter of thought, you loser of time.
They call the blossom nature, and not the rest. Nature also climbs
into the stem from the root; nature also descends into the dark of dank clay,
into the shale, into the rusty oxide of the earth. Nature is also frozen
under the pretty snow, gripping with sleep and death the spoils of its fruit.
Seed as well as blossom, root as well as husk, the empty and the full,
all these arbitrate the tools of love and proud disdain. So often both
arrive upon the scene and war for it. The farmer with his cold black hitch
extending from a chain he lays in snow, and up into the entrails of the wreck,
betrays his fitful, dark contempt for the boy’s driving, for the wasted trip
those lovers took. The wreckage gnarled against his elm tree and the moonlit pathos
are also mad with blame. The waste of it. The carnage of love’s fools.
They call the blossom nature, which closes in its time.
They call the seasons fair and foul, they ride to work on ships and sea,
they turn the pages of their lives and lose their past to memory.
They and we arrive and then depart, the loss is only half of life.
We seek to live and never live enough. We are and aren’t here.
This and the memory of then, then and the hope of future
balance in a moment just elapsed. Oh if I hold and do not breath
the second out just passed. Oh if I hold and do not breath
the next minute into presence. Oh if I hold the hopes of all on earth,
and yet must let them go, as the grasp of a hand sinking into the sea,
sinking into darkness and the deep. Oh if I hold the sufferings
of all survivors, praying with them for Nature’s blessings
and not for Nature’s sentence of return. Oh if I stay a while
and look through air at stars, and smile in sunlight, and dream
the dream of immortality and beyond. Oh if I am the inheritor
of all time past, and yet rise toward the door to answer future time,
and in that room my future has elapsed, I too must enter
where there is no room, the claustrophobia into which I, too, will turn
and wish for death. Oh busy seasons, and imperturbable stars,
I will become the same as you, a piece of loam, a dust of starlight.
And you will beckon over me, and nod in your settings, and snow
will fall and blanket me with those now frozen out of time.
Oh how will immortality look, from frozen eyes?
Oh how will mortality look from the skein of stars?
They call the blossom Nature. Nature calls us all her blood,
and we must round with her upon the loom of days.
We must go with her and learn her art and stays,
attending to her marvels as they pageant over us.
We are the vegetal and the animal dreams of her will.
We are the blood of her blossom, we are the sap in her stem.
She and ourselves are a larger picture; she and ourselves are bound
to a later turning in time. Once upon a time we were,
and still are in our basin of baptism, returned into soil like wheat,
sprinkled with rain on our foreheads, asked to give food from ourselves.
They call the blossom Nature; we call mankind the bread.
Something to chew on, a thought, a problem to ponder.
Something to rise like hope, or breath in the chest, something
to laugh about, something only human, not perfect, but dearly held.
A hand in a hand, holding. A person at the hearth. A dream
of daylight in the month of night. Roused
from the sleep of grief we forget our sorrows.
Stupidly we turn as the lowing cow to our cud.
I have walked again sunny at times. I have parted.
I have lent myself solitude to attend me. Time diminishes me,
as it did him. My father small and sitting up on his deathbed
smiled a lot, and in his unblinking stare conceived some visions
of which he spoke in shards. A proverb of old times he gave:
“Religion, ‘Rithmetic, and take care with endings.”
He thought this very appropriate of language, that it
advocated how one reaches the end of life with meaning.
First he had commenced to paddling broadly his little canoe
in bed, then wound up to serve in tennis, then he chattered
futile sounds in chimp speak, laughing at himself.
Later, after last rites, his eyes looked disconsolate to the ceiling
and, disappointed, slowly lowered his sights. Oh the staring
and the staring of his unblinking eyes. Days and nights of them,
moist with seeing. How far away he drifted on his own sea of time
and I angry at the end with his labored breathing, the rattling note
of death attached to him, the chains of its shaking hand embracing him.
Oh that I speak at all is my disgrace. The piteous thing that passes
before my eyes and takes a vigorous life down to ruin;
take the minister of death away from him, the drowning of him
by his own heart; take the story away from me, time, into your room
of forgetting. Take its witness into the grave with me. I will attempt
impossible things from my sleep. I will attempt dreaming acquaintance
with the kin I never met. I will attempt the living out of heaven,
foolish as it seems. I will not go like an intellectual, but as a dreamer
who has known spring and summer evenings and the stars.
I will go looking for my father, and his mistakes, and mine.
We shall walk in air, and smile, and wait for you.
I have considered all of this untrue, and yet I dreamt of it,
and in surreal entity I have slept and hoped.
Nothing you offer in consolation, including this, will heal.
There is no healing. There is wound. There is forgetting.
There is forgiving. Continuance alone concludes.
This is the taste of dying by which we prepare. Over the blossom
sets the dying sun of summer. Over it walks the bee.
Rain feeds us all, in a manner of mercy.
Do not forget the rains. They are the children of stars.
Any day is long enough to know infinity. By its measure
we are lived excitedly and once. Time is only boredom.
Life is fun. Life conducts intoxications and nirvanas.
We are music in the passing, we are taste, we are touch.
We are the pleasure returned to often, we are the hungry,
we are the teachings and the untaught. We are the breath
of light in the morning, we are startled awake by the warming
of day, by the chill of the night lingering at the window.
We are the travelers woken by new arrangements, stirred by those
unlike ourselves who show another city, another art, another life.
We are conducting our itineraries into self, into hermitages, into rooms
where reading is the only sense. We are alive and find the way
to spend the gift of this. We are the moments of that time.
We are the epiphenomenon of our own encounters.
We are made of others whose faces meet us and declare our secrets
to ourselves. We are the bearers of a truth no one knows. We are
scarred by the carrying of our worries. We are troubled and released
by the life we think is always going to end unloved, unaccomplished,
unfound, uncertain, unfaithful, unknown, undone, without solace.
We are sleepers preparing for a sleep. We are dreamers,
creating dreams. We are nutrinos, and protons, we are photonic screens
on which play particles of no mass, no charge, free of charge.
We are electronic grids of networked valences, of electrons spinning
across biology, of voltages and amperages and magnetic flux.
We are synthesized like stars, like planetary systems, like coral reefs,
like forests swaying to the beat of weather. We are freezings and meltings,
we are ice ages in bone and spring in the permafrost of brain.
We are shining in the x-ray negative. We are constructed in the layers
of the skin, in the irrigations of the veins, in the windmills of the lungs.
We are blinking open lids to feed our eyes. We are reading and arranging
words. We are lifting selves from chairs and rising. We are rising
to the motions of our wills. We are dreaming in the circuits of our selves.
We are interested in the stars. We are conversant with their distances
and lives. We are waiting for a word from them. We are looking for
the past that writes itself in stone. We are warming over fires from the past.
We are pouring elements together into fires. We are weaving nylon
and acrylic, polyester, unlike the wool of lambs, but studying the imitation
of their living. We are unraveling the egg and sperm of our conception.
We are making necklaces of knowledge, we are wearing mortar boards
with tassels to build a new library of the mind.
We are on the brink of knowing how and why. We are pushed into thought
in this losing race of life. We are listening at oscilloscopes and screens
to understand what touches what to make us think. Where is the soul
that migrates away. Who is the self in the body. What is the mind –
matter or spirit, flesh or experience? Do I exist or only think?
Is thought our life, sensation, sensibility? Do I live because I see
and respond to a painting, to a creature, to others? Am I, or the one
to whom my empathy pours out? Are we? Are we like a movie?
Are we watching in our caves for shadows? Are we aware?
Are we bringing mercy? Are we lost? Are we tomorrow as today?
Are we passionate because the flux of all in all is audible to us?
Are we passionate? Are we listening? Are we feeling light?
Why is heat? Why is gravity? Why is running such elation?
Why is love? Why is solitude? Why is time? Why is order
and complexity? Why is something simple? Why is health
complex? Why is a word the simple thing it is, yet mulled
and milled from such a head of multitudes and parts?
Why can I walk and not fall? Why am I present?
Why am I not forgetting the moment before? Why shall I forget
some day? Why am I coming this way and not that? Why is luck
so favored in the scheme of lives? Why must I cry the cry of birds?
Why is the list of things not their totality? Why can I not dissect
the life of myself, the life of another? How is possible, not why;
but why is given us in word and question. Why recedes,
asking by its sign, the lonely totem left beside the path.
Why appears beside us, in the mirror, in the newspaper,
on the screens of our computers, in the bed so tussled with our love,
in the faces of babies, in the sky, in the blooms of spring.
Why is the word in which we bury all our griefs. The sign in which
we gather disappointments. The word without meaning, the box
of stone which has no key or fossil. The container into which
my life recedes. The casket of my body and of his. The self
and dream of self resides therein; I borrow them a while, and think
and dream. I am possessed from wherebefore and thence.
I will go about my days, escaping from the reckoning in that sign.
That question still unanswered will remain the last examination.
There will be no pencils needed there. This is the only thing.
Awake, I will either have an answer, or asleep, none.
Or there was nothing, only mercy, only love, only the why
of a long performance on a stage. Only the working out of atoms,
which built themselves into a man for odd, inexplicable reasons,
for no reason at all, for the fun of it. For the question why.