Excerpts for New Selected Poems
MirrorA white room and a party going onand I was standing with some friendsunder a large gilt-framed mirrorthat tilted slightly forwardover the fireplace.We were drinking whiskeyand some of us, feeling no pain,were trying to decidewhat precise shade of yellowthe setting sun turned our drinks.I closed my eyes briefly,then looked up into the mirror:a woman in a green dress leanedagainst the far wall.She seemed distracted,the fingers of one handfidgeted with her necklace,and she was staring into the mirror,not at me, but past me, into a spacethat might be filled by someoneyet to arrive, who at that momentcould be starting the journeywhich would lead eventually to her.Then, suddenly, my friendssaid it was time to move on.This was years ago,and though I have forgottenwhere we went and who we all were,I still recall that moment of looking upand seeing the woman stare past meinto a place I could only imagine,and each time it is with a pang,as if just then I were steppingfrom the depths of the mirrorinto that white room, breathless and eager,only to discover too latethat she is not there.XVIIt is true, as someone has said, that inA world without heaven all is farewell.Whether you wave your hand or not,It is farewell, and if no tears come to your eyesIt is still farewell, and if you pretend not to notice,Hating what passes, it is still farewell.Farewell no matter what. And the palms as they leanOver the green, bright lagoon, and the pelicansDiving, and the glistening bodies of bathers resting,Are stages in an ultimate stillness, and the movementOf sand, and of wind, and the secret moves of the bodyAre part of the same, a simplicity that turns beingInto an occasion for mourning, or into an occasionWorth celebrating, for what else does one do,Feeling the weight of the pelicans' wings,The density of the palms' shadows, the cells that darkenThe backs of bathers? These are beyond the distortionsOf change, beyond the evasions of music. The endIs enacted again and again. And we feel itIn the temptations of sleep, in the moon's ripening,In the wine as it waits in the glass.Elegy for My Father(Robert Strand 1908-1968)1 THE EMPTY BODYThe hands were yours, the arms were yours,But you were not there.The eyes were yours, but they were closed and would not open.The distant sun was there.The moon poised on the hillÕs white shoulder was there.The wind on Bedford Basin was there.The pale green light of winter was there.Your mouth was there,But you were not there.When somebody spoke, there was no answer.Clouds came downAnd buried the buildings along the water,And the water was silent.The gulls stared.The years, the hours, that would not find youTurned in the wrists of others.There was no pain. It had gone.There were no secrets. There was nothing to say.The shade scattered its ashes.The body was yours, but you were not there.The air shivered against its skin.The dark leaned into its eyes.But you were not there.2 ANSWERSWhy did you travel?Because the house was cold.Why did you travel?Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.What did you wear?I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.What did you wear?I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.Who did you sleep with?I slept with a different woman each night.Who did you sleep with?I slept alone. I have always slept alone.Why did you lie to me?I always thought I told the truth.Why did you lie to me?Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.Why are you going?Because nothing means much to me anymore.Why are you going?I donÕt know. I have never known.How long shall I wait for you?Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.Are you tired and do you want to lie down?Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.3 YOUR DYINGNothing could stop you.Not the best day. Not the quiet. Not the ocean rocking.You went on with your dying.Not the treesUnder which you walked, not the trees that shaded you.Not the doctorWho warned you, the white-haired young doctor who saved you once.You went on with your dying.Nothing could stop you. Not your son. Not your daughterWho fed you and made you into a child again.Not your son who thought you would live forever.Not the wind that shook your lapels.Not the stillness that offered itself to your motion.Not your shoes that grew heavier.Not your eyes that refused to look ahead.Nothing could stop you.You sat in your room and stared at the cityAnd went on with your dying.You went to work and let the cold enter your clothes.You let blood seep into your socks.Your face turned white.Your voice cracked in two.You leaned on your cane.But nothing could stop you.Not your friends who gave you advice.Not your son. Not your daughter who watched you grow small.Not fatigue that lived in your sighs.Not your lungs that would fill with water.Not your sleeves that carried the pain of your arms.Nothing could stop you.You went on with your dying.When you played with children you went on with your dying.When you sat down to eat,When you woke up at night, wet with tears, your body sobbing,You went on with your dying.Nothing could stop you.Not the past.Not the future with its good weather.Not the view from your window, the view of the graveyard.Not the city. Not the terrible city with its wooden buildings.Not defeat. Not success.You did nothing but go on with your dying.You put your watch to your ear.You felt yourself slipping.You lay on the bed.You folded your arms over your chest and you dreamed of the worldwithout you,Of the space under the trees,Of the space in your room,Of the spaces that would now be empty of you,And you went on with your dying.Nothing could stop you.Not your breathing. Not your life.Not the life you wanted.Not the life you had.Nothing could stop you.4 YOUR SHADOWYou have your shadow.The places where you were have given it back.The hallways and bare lawns of the orphanage have given it back.The Newsboys Home has given it back.The streets of New York have given it back and so have the streets ofMontreal.The rooms in Bel?m where lizards would snap at mosquitos havegiven it back.The dark streets of Manaus and the damp streets of Rio have given itback.Mexico City where you wanted to leave it has given it back.And Halifax where the harbor would wash its hands of you has givenit back.You have your shadow.When you traveled the white wake of your going sent your shadowbelow, but when you arrived it was there to greet you. You hadyour shadow.The doorways you entered lifted your shadow from you and when youwent out, gave it back. You had your shadow.Even when you forgot your shadow, you found it again; it had beenwith you.Once in the country the shade of a tree covered your shadow and youwere not known.Once in the country you thought your shadow had been cast by somebodyelse. Your shadow said nothing.Your clothes carried your shadow inside; when you took them off, itspread like the dark of your past.And your words that float like leaves in an air that is lost, in a placeno one knows, gave you back your shadow.Your friends gave you back your shadow.Your enemies gave you back your shadow. They said it was heavy andwould cover your grave.When you died your shadow slept at the mouth of the furnace and ateashes for bread.It rejoiced among ruins.It watched while others slept.It shone like crystal among the tombs.It composed itself like air.It wanted to be like snow on water.It wanted to be nothing, but that was not possible.It came to my house.It sat on my shoulders.Your shadow is yours. I told it so. I said it was yours.I have carried it with me too long. I give it back.5 MOURNINGThey mourn for you.When you rise at midnight,And the dew glitters on the stone of your cheeks,They mourn for you.They lead you back into the empty house.They carry the chairs and tables inside.They sit you down and teach you to breathe.And your breath burns,It burns the pine box and the ashes fall like sunlight.They give you a book and tell you to read.They listen and their eyes fill with tears.The women stroke your fingers.They comb the yellow back into your hair.They shave the frost from your beard.They knead your thighs.They dress you in fine clothes.They rub your hands to keep them warm.They feed you. They offer you money.They get on their knees and beg you not to die.When you rise at midnight they mourn for you.They close their eyes and whisper your name over and over.But they cannot drag the buried light from your veins.They cannot reach your dreams.Old man, there is no way.Rise and keep rising, it does no good.They mourn for you the way they can.6 THE NEW YEARIt is winter and the new year.Nobody knows you.Away from the stars, from the rain of light,You lie under the weather of stones.There is no thread to lead you back.Your friends doze in the darkOf pleasure and cannot remember.Nobody knows you. You are the neighbor of nothing.You do not see the rain falling and the man walking away,The soiled wind blowing its ashes across the city.You do not see the sun dragging the moon like an echo.You do not see the bruised heart go up in flames,The skulls of the innocent turn into smoke.You do not see the scars of plenty, the eyes without light.It is over. It is winter and the new year.The meek are hauling their skins into heaven.The hopeless are suffering the cold with those who have nothing tohide.It is over and nobody knows you.There is starlight drifting on the black water.There are stones in the sea no one has seen.There is a shore and people are waiting.And nothing comes back.Because it is over.Because there is silence instead of a name.Because it is winter and the new year.