“What was any art but a mold to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.”
What marks us?
- Small things: a blue bead,
- missed chance, the rivelled trails
- of ants. Think of the marks
- of history: the hemlock,
- the nails, the moon’s face
- nocked in sticks. None of these
- is great. Touched
- and touched again,
- the body opens. Over and over,
- the small hands of the rain.
What is our ancient knowledge?
- To track by broken grass, tell the future
- in the moon’s fogged mirror.
- To cast runes from the hand—
- that bowl of bone and leather.
- Their fall, their scritch and jumble.
- The hawk’s shift
- across a branch of shadow.
What is the source of power?
- Time. Though this is far
- from obvious. Listen: the waterfall
- is powered by its drop, the lightning
- by its cliff of charge. Our power
- is in the lurch and spark, the recognition
- that wind in green wheat
- makes the sound of a scythe
- being sharpened.
What things are lost?
- Many. Most. And those that make it,
- spared by chance. Consider
- the rune poem, only copy
- of a pagan text, bound between
- Lucy the martyr and the date of Easter.
- What brought it there?
- or brought the book
- to the burning library?
What things are wise?
- Mirrors. Keys.
- The sow that swallows the runt of her litter.
- The bees that sleep in smoke.
- The beekeeper’s widow bending her whisper
- to the buzzing mouth of the hive.
What things bid us enter?
- Windows. Scissors.
- The open throats of orchids.
- The polished backs of flies.
- The heart of the Virgin,
- gaudy with swords.
- The avalanche that gives way
- like a ripping sail.
What things protect us?
- Bread and salt. Sharpened silver.
- Sprigs of mistletoe carried in secret.
- Fish-eyed lenses set in heavy doors.
- Rhymes and dental records.
- Forgetfulness. Distance.
- Oh, the wrack of history—
- the fragment of Sappho
- in the mummy of a crocodile—
- the dog’s grave unearthed
- by the Athens Metro.
- What amazes us about this?
- The freshness of the loss,
- or that tender history has left
- the patient jaw arranged on jumbled paw bones?
Why are we restless?
- Stir the soup with a knife.
- Pull the bread from the oven singing.
- Despite our aprons we are angel-natured,
- our shoulders ache with wonder.
- Hold out your hand to be read—
- you will cross water. Cup it over your ear.
- What calls? What answers?
What calls? What answers?
- The moon calls and the salt
- answers. The knife calls
- and the sun answers. What did Cain learn,
- except that stone calls blood?
- Some days the sea is brine and stillness,
- the sails limp and the compass spinning
- Then again, the heart is pulled
- towards every fragment of the earth.
What do we hold to?
- This sweet world—how we love it.
- As an old horse loves the harness,
- loves the stall.
- The drenching smell of leather.
- The work and rest.
- The sweat and hay.
- Dust-slanted, cricket-singing, the barn—
- even when it’s burning.
What turns us?
- The beauty of the world
- is a moon’s beauty:
- shifting, breathless, mirrored,
- a beauty of contradictions.
- Listen: we are tender
- because the light is spilling out of October,
- a low swoop across the cut
- and ragged fields, the bales.
- Loneliness rises: a great planet.
- Tidal, we turn all our faces to it.
- Skin. Scars. Stones
- from the river. Language like a basket
- made for carrying water.
- The nest of mice
- in the box of papers.
- The bread, innocently,
- in the warm kitchen.
- Even if the phone rings,
- even if you fold to the floor in grief.
- As sparks fly upward, the fever.
- And lark song in the evening.
What is asked of us?
- More than we can give
- and we give it. We bury our children
- or die bearing them. This is to do
- with the size of the brainpan
- with respect to the pelvis. The cost of our language
- and the root of our gentleness:
- that we are born helpless.
- That we remain, helpless.
What do we hope for?
- For hope itself, for honey
- at the bottom of bitter tea.
- Though hope keeps us pulling
- loads that would break the heart
- of horses. In the lifeboats we strain our eyes
- for the white curl that could be either sail
- or wave.
What can heal us?
- Like men who have lost legs,
- we cannot be restored,
- but the tumbling world
- makes lights of us:
- the sea turns glass to milk,
- a tea cup handle
- to a tool for divination.
What can save us?
- To be saved is wild and possible.
- It is the moth that is born with no mouth.
- It is the knife so sharp its edge cannot be seen.
- For centuries it was believed
- that swallows wintered at the bottom of wells.
- Men of science have seen them
- pulled up in buckets
- with their hearts still beating.
- The clue’s in how we’re buried:
- dates like time dog-eared,
- a code for breath that’s called
- our names. What’s left is tags
- and outlines: words, a score, a scattering
- of genes. That’s all, unless loss
- has substance—that slant of light
- that makes us turn and look.
Photo by Flickr user Tim Green