Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday afternoon poem

By Heraclitus

The poem this week is one that I always find particularly affecting. It's by Galway Kinnell, whose poem "The Cellist" I posted here. "Freedom, New Hampshire," the poem below, is about death and loss, and I was weeping most of the time I was typing it out, as I usually do when I read it. Speaking of which, one of the reasons these themes have been on my mind lately is the beautiful things Chris Clarke has been writing about the decline and death of his wonderful dog Zeke. If you don't know about Chris Clarke's blog, Creek Running North, I urge you to give it a look. Chris is one of the most talented writers I've encountered among bloggers; he can write dazzling and moving posts on everything from natural history and biology to his own past to progressive politics to literature (and he may well be the funniest person on the planet). If you thought I was a bastard for posting Updike's "Dog's Death," try reading this without breaking down:

There will be years and years, each small forgetting a betrayal, each small betrayal a comfort, each small comfort another death. There is no lesson here, no lesson. Narcissus sought himself reflected in the world and found only death. Plums will bloom until there are no more plums. I will join him diffused into the soil, our component atoms intermingled one day soon, a dog and a man who walked together for a time, a brief spark of sweetness in an aching world.

This is another of many on Zeke. And this is something very different, and much more chilling. But I can't possibly indicate the richness and diversity of his blog with a few links.

Also, Kaveh, if you read this, I hope this poem helps a little. I don't know how it really can, but at least it will be less banal and lame than what I've had to say the last couple of times we've communicated.

**********

Galway Kinnell

Freedom, New Hampshire

1

We came to visit the cow
Dying of fever,
Towle said it was already
Shoveled under, in a secret
Burial-place in the woods.
We prowled through the woods
Weeks, we never

Found where. Other
Children other summers
Must have found the place
And asked, Why is it
Green here? The rich
Guess a grave, maybe,
The poor think a pit

For dung, like the one
We shoveled in in the fall,
That came up a brighter green
The next year, that
Could as well have been
The grave of a cow
Or something, for all that shows.

2

We found a cowskull once; we thought it was
From one of the asses in the Bible, for the sun
Shone into the holes through which it had seen
Earth as an endless belt carrying gravel, had heard
Its truculence cursed, had learned how human sweat
Stinks, and had brayed -- shone into the holes
With solemn and majestic light, as if some
Skull somewhere could be Baalbek or the Parthenon.

That night passing Towle's Barn
We saw lights. Towle had lassoed a calf
By its hind legs, and he tugged against the grip
Of the darkness. The cow stood by, chewing millet.
Derry and I took hold, too, and hauled.
It was sopping with darkness when it came free.
It was a bullcalf. The cow mopped it awhile,
And we walked around it with a lantern,

And it was sunburned, somehow, and beautiful.
It took a teat as the first business
And sneezed and drank at the milk of light.
When we got it balanced on its legs, it went wobbling
Toward the night. Walking home in darkness
We saw the July moon looking on Freedom, New Hampshire,
We smelled the fall in the air, it was the summer,
We thought, Oh this is but the summer!

3

Once I saw the moon
Drift into the sky like a bright
Pregnancy pared
From a goddess who had to
Keep slender to remain beautiful --
Cut loose, and drifting up there
To happen by itself --
And waning, in lost labor;

As we lost our labor
Too -- afternoons
When we sat on the gate
By the pasture, under the Ledge,
Buzzing and skirling on toilet-
papered combs tunes
To the rumble-seated cars
Taking the Ossipee Road

On Sundays; for
Though dusk would come upon us
Where we sat, and though we had
Skirled out our hearts in the music,
Yet the not-yet dandruffed
Harps we skirled it on
Had done not much better than
Flies, which buzzed, when quick

We trapped them in our hands,
Which went silent when we
Crushed them, which we bore
Downhill to the meadowlark's
Nest full of throats, which
Derry charmed and combed
With an Arabian air, while I
Chucked crushed flies into

Innards I could not see,
For the night had fallen
And the crickets shrilled on all sides
In waves, as if the grassleaves
Shrieked by hillsides
As they grew, and the stars
Made small flashes in the sky,
Like mica flashing in rocks

On the chokecherried Ledge
Where bees I stepped on once
Hit us from behind like a shotgun,
And where we could see
Windowpanes in Freedom flash
And Loon Lake and Winnipesaukee
Flash in the sun
And the blue world flashing.

4

The fingerprints of our eyeballs would zigzag
On the sky; the clouds that came drifting up
Our fingernails would drift into the thin air;
In bed at night there was music if you listened,
Of an old surf breaking far away in the blood.

Children who come by chance on grass green for a man
Can guess cow, dung, man, anything they want,
To them it is the same. To us who knew him as he was
After the beginning and before the end, it is green
For a name called out of the confusions of the earth --

Winnipesaukee coined like a moon, a bullcalf
Dragged from the darkness where it breaks up again,
Larks which long since have crashed for good in the grass
To which we fed the flies, buzzing ourselves like flies,
While the crickets shrilled beyond us, in July.

The mind may sort it out and give it names --
When a man dies he dies trying to say without slurring
The abruptly decaying sounds. It is true
That only flesh dies, and spirit flowers without stop
For men, cows, dung, for all dead things; and it is good, yes --

But an incarnation is in particular flesh
And the dust that is swirled into a shape
And crumbles and is swirled again had but one shape
That was this man. When he is dead the grass
Heals what he suffered, but he remains dead,
And the few who loved him know this until they die.

For my brother, 1925-1957

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