That morning you had reassured me

(after Yosa Buson)

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That morning you had reassured me
before we said goodbye.
At evening my heart was in a thousand pieces
and the pieces scattered.

Thinking of you, I wandered.
The world had been so full of you
it didn’t occur to me to wonder
that the hills themselves were in mourning:

Pathfinder in shade, prairie stars white in sun –
and no one to look at them.
I heard a pheasant calling and calling
fervently.

Crossing the river, I thought:
once you lived on the other side.

You left in the evening,
at morning my heart was still,
my heart that you had steadied,
in a thousand pieces.

Ghostly smoke rises a little before
the north wind that blows it away
across the deadgrass fields,
through the winter-stripped coppices.

Once you lived across the river;
You were everywhere, like smoke,
like memory, so when you are gone,
who can I be, stripped of a past?

I stripped dead leaves from branches
wove a hut to sit in
sat there alone all day
and long into the invaluable evening.

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At least you died beloved

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At least you died beloved
Though surrounded by snow
And after the slow twilight
Had gathered and then gone.

Not how you thought to go,
Maybe, when you were young
And winter a long way off,
Before anything was known.

Couldn’t the end have come
One day in summer?
One perfect day
That would be like living always?

A field of flowers, warm sun,
Your loved ones gathered round
And after one bird’s wistful song
No pain, and no good-byes unsaid?

I harbor no regrets for you.
You were our perfect day,
He your warm sun, and we
Your field of flowers.

 

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For Ambrose Bierce on his birthday

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The only death I want is one
that maybe never really happens
like yours Mr. Bierce
the one you maybe had
after you disappeared
into the Mexican desert
or that you maybe didn’t have
because nobody ever saw you die
so maybe.

You know what I mean?

The death I want is that kind
a little bit like hope
and a little bit like a shrug
and which never provably happened
so there’s always that chance.

You know what I mean.

Which is just to say
happy hundred-and-seventy-fourth
if you’re still out there
you crabby old bastard.

 

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You will never be able to

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“The dancers themselves are careful not to disturb the trance subjects while their souls are in the spirit world.”

James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion and Wounded Knee (Characteristics of the Dance)

You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.

As well try to use a net to carry smoke
As well try to remove the destination from the road
As well try to pull a single strand from a spider’s web

You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.

See where bright motes are dancing in the spring air
And you have parked your car on the sand near the ocean
The ocean rises and eats the land
The land rises up out of the ocean again

You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.

Somewhere a single flower has sprung up suddenly in a meadow already full of flowers
Somewhere a star is burning the universe
Somewhere the body of a red-winged blackbird is being disassembled by ants
Somewhere a girl plucks a single flower and discards it

You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.

You have tried to make your song without any singing
You have tried to make your dance without any dancers
But now Spider Woman is making her web again

You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.
You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.
You will never be able to strip away the spirits of the dead from the living.

 

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The Swan

(after Ranier Maria Rilke)

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Despite having so many things still left undone
(Important things, things you were meant to do)
You spent the hour observing swans.

Swans waddle; are awkward; you hadn’t known. One—ungainly thing—
You watched slowly approach the verge, like one would who
Faced death by drowning—till, resigned to sink,

It pitched into the pool at last
With an undignified, un-swan-like splash.
Then bore up, unsurprisingly, upon the waves.
The water endless came—oh, but the swan
Glided, glided, glided on and on
As if it were no miracle it had been saved.

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No Evil Star

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_17The world laments with many tongues;
You had your one.
But you said enough, with your rhymes and your songs
And your crying, crying, crying all night long.
You were just killing time till it was time to go
But found time dies too slow.

It’s all right now, I think you’d say.
Maybe there was a better change you could have made
But finally they’re all the same.
After the games you’d played with pain
The gas was easy, anyway.

Were you afraid? Who wouldn’t be?
You knew the soul is what it feels.
A private pain is no less real:
Yours grew until it had to be set free.
I guess you did it perfectly.

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That Old Feeling

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German) 

Erich Heckel, Still Life with Wooden Figure, 1913The first time that I thought to die
–I still recall the scene–
I died with so much skill and grace
In Hamburg, just the perfect place,
And I was just eighteen.

And when I died the second time,
It filled my heart with woe
That I could leave you nothing more
Than just my heart, laid at your door,
And footprints, red in snow.

And when I died the third time,
I hardly felt the pain;
Familiar as my toast and tea,
Like an old shoe, is death to me.
I needn’t die again.

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Kaddish

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)

Red shriek the poppies in the green fields of Poland.
Death lies in wait in the black forests of Poland.
Wheat rots, unharvested.
The reapers are all dead.
However much their mothers starve
The children cry for bread.

And frightened from their nests, the birds have ceased
To sing; the trees lift up their limbs for grief
And bow and whisper lamentation towards the east;
And when the wind takes up their sorrows like a prayer
And when they bow down like old Jews in attitudes of prayer
The broad, blood-sodden earth is shaken,
The stones themselves awaken.

This year, who will sound
The Shofar for the supplicants beneath the ground?
The hundred thousands whom no headstones name,
The hundred thousands God alone can name.

How shall they be entered into Heaven’s book aright?
Lord, we beseech you,
Let the prayers of the trees reach you
Tonight, as we light the last light.

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