I honor her verses of her mother dying:
these bad verses, simple and terrible, simply
the thing, descried: the woman fumbling, forgetting
in the talcum smells and television mutter.
They appall me, they make me cry: I seem to think
of that woman, that mother, but I don’t, because
I don’t know her and never can and those verses
say only things which, no matter how accurate,
are lies, no matter how horrible, are ideal.
I cry, knowing I will never write the verses
that deliver one mother dying. The poem,
stern, won’t allow itself to serve, and there are things
in life, like a woman’s dying, too helpless to
defile with its invulnerable seduction.
Because I have not understood myself,
Because I have not understood the poem
Or what prayer is, I will have no relief,
Will not have even a tent or road for a home.
Others I see who burnt their tabernacle
To flame shape and ash of sexual perfume
We love to sift. I have not had the knack
Of a bearing, a weight, till it inchoirs a doom.
I sat in my attitude awaiting God.
My body was a word he spoke to me.
But in what alley’s slang can it be heard
And learned, or studied in what dictionary?
What I saw there were fingertips and foreskins
Falling in the pit of mutilation,
Minced from all bodies, and long heaped scatterings,
Those parts, the crumble wall of my obsession:
A mounting to little and that bit not living,
Odd but not unfamiliar in the way
That takes one home. So you are dead but breathing,
I told my body. So you are gone. But stay.
A long time since I trusted a little wine,
some drunkenness, an hour of being quiet.
But in the pit of the breast, what difference
between wine’s clarity moving through the veins,
touching everything with its word, “All’s peace”,
and the clarity of nervousness and dread
at idleness, with its sentence, “Time is wasting”?
October and wind and rain suddenly come
into still trees and silence starts to sing,
a perfect song, formless, like the ocean’s.
Stillness: the song of songs about to start.
And song, the stillness driven from its place.
Tree, content to be
repetition of another tree,
how I envy
your composure of the night,
your cellulose of music
letting the winds be untaught
fingers erring and hoarse
in the song of your conversion
of earth to nourishment.
Constant in water and light.
Across you the track of the ant.
How I envy you
who have all that I want,
being with compulsion
and restlessness content.
Birds of North America
for Don McKay
When glimpsed as rarely as the ghost of Hector
by wooded streams on high slopes: elegant trogon.
But when fortune and dark water seem the subjects
of our squadroned numbers and cool balance: duck.
We think, though you would like it to fly, your love
for us is stiff as the escaped budgerigar,
green-gold on first December snow: the sight
by which your warblings learned to peck and quail.
Despite all the statues in your winter-bound
encampments we’ve blessed, you don’t have the marbled godwit
God gave you. Why don’t your bells charm the lookouts
in vigilance on your walls, helping the stone chat
and the grass choir, as in familiar dreams
they did once, every morning, till the sparrows
waked you and you went out, your look made sunrise,
bodiless spectrum shading to ruddy, turn stone,
wood, and water, which then took places in air
woven with wings, festooned with feathery bunting?
Why have you become such a weeper upon earth,
till you style the most antic soul “brown creeper”?
But we who ignore the hunger in our hunger
explode the names, like songs from a bald pate,
pipings out of sand: our king is a fisher man,
our regret hatches egrets and our sorrow crows.