THE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES
Galway Kinnell, 1971
I UNDER THE MAUD MOON 1 On the path, by this wet site of old fires- black ashes, black stones, where tramps must have squatted down, gnawing on stream water, unhouseling themselves on cursed bread, failing to get warm at a twigfire- I stop, gather wet wood, cut dry shavings, and for her, whose face I held in my hands a few hours, whom I gave back only to keep holding the space where she was, I light a small fire in the rain. The black wood reddens, the deathwatches inside begin running out of time, I can see the dead, crossed limbs longing again for the universe, I can hear in the wet wood the snap and re-snap of the same embrace being torn. The raindrops trying to put the fire out fall into it and are changed: the oath broken, the oath sworn between earth and water, flesh and spirit, broken, to be sworn again, over and over, in the clouds, and to be broken again, over and over, on earth. 2 I sit a moment by the fire, in the rain, speak a few words into its warmth- stone saint smooth stone- and sing one of the songs I used to croak for my daughter, in her nightmares. Somewhere out ahead of me a black bear sits alone on his hillside, nodding from side to side. He sniffs the blossom-smells, the rained earth, finally he gets up, eats a few flowers, trudges away, his fur glistening in the rain. The singed grease streams out of the words, the one held note remains-a love-note twisting under my tongue, like the coyote's bark, curving off, into a howl. 3 A round- cheeked girlchild comes awake in her crib. The green swaddlings tear open, a filament or vestment tears,the blue flower opens. And she who is born, she who sings and cries, she who begins the passage, her hair sprouting out, her gums budding for her first spring on earth, the mist still clinging about her face, puts her hand into her father's mouth, to take hold of his song. 4 It is all over, little one, the flipping and overleaping, the watery somersaulting alone in the oneness under the hill, under the old, lonely bellybutton pushing forth again in remembrance, the drifting there furled in the dark, pressing a knee or elbow along a slippery wall, sculpting the world with each thrash-the stream of omphalos blood humming all about you. 5 Her head enters the headhold which starts sucking her forth: being itself closes down all over her, gives her into the shuddering grip of departure, the slow, agonized clenches making the last molds of her life in the dark. 6 The black eye opens, the pupil droozed with black hairs stops, the chakra on top of the brain throbs a long moment in world light, and she skids out on her face into light, this peck of stunned flesh clotted with celestial cheesiness, glowing with the astral violet of the underlife. And as they cut her tie to the darkness she dies a moment, turns blue as a coal, the limbs shaking as the memories rush out of them. When they hang her up by the feet, she sucks air, screams her first song-and turns rose, the slow, beating, featherless arms already clutching at the emptiness. 7 When it was cold on our hillside, and you cried in the crib rocking through the darkness, on wood knifed down to the curve of the smile, a sadness stranger than ours, all of it flowing from the other world, I used to come to you and sit by you and sing to you. You did not know, and yet you will remember, in the silent zones of the brain, a specter, descendant of the ghostly forefathers, singing to you in the nighttime- not the songs of light said to wave through the bright hair of angels, but a blacker rasping flowering on that tongue. For when the Maud moon glimmered in those first nights, and the Archer lay sucking the icy biestings of the cosmos, in his crib of stars, I had crept down to riverbanks, their long rustle of being and perishing, down to marshes where the earth oozes up in cold streaks, touching the world with the underglimmer of the beginning, and there learned my only song. And in the days when you find yourself orphaned, emptied of all wind-singing, of light, the pieces of cursed bread on your tongue, may there come back to you a voice, spectral, calling you sister! from everything that dies. And then you shall open this book, even if it is the book of nightmares. II THE HEN FLOWER 1 Sprawled on our faces in the spring nights, teeth biting down on hen feathers, bits of the hen still stuck in the crevices-if only we could let go like her, throw ourselves on the mercy of darkness, like the hen, tuck our head under a wing, hold ourselves still a few moments, as she falls out into her little trance in the witchgrass, or turn over and be stroked with a finger down the throat feathers, down the throat knuckles, down over the hum of the wishbone tuning its high D in thin blood, down over the breastbone risen up out of breast flesh, until the fatted thing woozes off, head thrown back on the chopping block, longing only to die. 2 When the ax- scented breeze flourishes about her,her cheeks crush in, her comb grays, the gizzard that turns the thousand acidic millstones of her fate convulses: ready or not the next egg, bobbling its globe of golden earth, skids forth, ridding her even of the life to come. 3 Almost high on subsided gravity, I remain afoot, a hen flower dangling from a hand, wing of my wing, of my bones and veins, of my flesh hairs lifting all over me in the first ghostly breeze after death, wing made only to fly-unable to write out the sorrows of being unable to hold another in one's arms-and unable to fly, and waiting, therefore, for the sweet, eventual blaze in the genes, that one day, according to gospel, shall carry it back into pink skies, where geese cross at twilight, honking in tongues. 4 I have glimpsed by corpse-light, in the opened cadaver of hen, the mass of tiny, unborn eggs, each getting tinier and yellower as it reaches back toward the icy pulp of what is, I have felt the zero freeze itself around the finger dipped slowly in. 5 When the Northern Lights were opening across the black sky and vanishing, lighting themselves up so completely they were vanishing, I put to my eye the lucent section of the spealbone of a ram- I thought suddenly I could read the cosmos spelling itself, the huge broken letters shuddering across the black sky and vanishing, and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, it came to me the mockingbird would sing all her nights the cry of the rifle, the tree would hold the bones of the sniper who chose not to climb down, the rose would bloom no one would see it, the chameleon longing to be changed would remain the color of blood. And I went up to the henhouse, and took up the hen killed by weasels, and lugged the sucked carcass into first light. And when I hoisted her up among the young pines, a last rubbery egg slipping out as I flung her high, didn't it happen the dead wings creaked open as she soared across the arms of the Bear? 6 Sprawled face down, waiting for the rooster to groan out it is the empty morning, as he groaned out thrice for the disciple of stone, he who crushed with his heel the brain out of the snake, I remember long ago I sowed my own first milk tooth under hen feathers, I planted under hen feathers the hook of the wishbone, which had broken itself so lovingly toward me. For the future. It has come to this. 7 Listen, Kinnell, dumped alive and dying into the old sway bed, a layer of crushed feathers all that there is between you and the long shaft of darkness shaped as you, let go. Even this haunted room all its materials photographed with tragedy, even the tiny crucifix drifting face down at the center of the earth, even these feathers freed from their wings forever are afraid. III THE SHOES OF WANDERING 1 Squatting at the rack in the Store of the Salvation Army, putting on, one after one, these shoes strangers have died from, I discover the eldershoes of my feet, that take my feet as their first feet, clinging down to the least knuckle and corn. And I walk out now, in dead shoes, in the new light, on the steppingstones of someone else's wandering, a twinge in this foot or that saying turn or stay or take forty-three giant steps backwards, frightened I may already have lost the way: the first step, the Crone who scried the crystal said, shall be to lose the way. 2 Back at the Xvarna Hotel, I leave unlocked the door jimmied over and over, I draw the one, lightning-tracked blind in the narrow room under the freeway, I put off the shoes, set them side by side by the bedside, curl up on bedclothes gone stiff from love-acid, night-sweat, gnash-dust of tooth, and lapse back into darkness. 3 A faint, creaking noise starts up in the room, low-passing wing- beats, or great, labored breath-takings of somebody lungsore or old. And the old footsmells in the shoes, touched back to life by my footsweats, as by a child's kisses, rise, drift up where I lie self-hugged on the bedclothes, slide down the flues of dozed, beating hairs, and I can groan or wheeze, it will be the groan or wheeze of another-the elderfoot of these shoes, the drunk who died in this room, whose dream-child might have got a laugh out of those clenched, corned feet, putting huge, comical kisses on them through the socks, or a brother shipped back burned from the burning of Asians, sweating his nightmare out to the end in some whitewashed warehouse for dying-the groan or wheeze of one who lays bare his errors by a harsher light, his self-mutterings worse than the farts, grunts, and belches of an Oklahoma men's room, as I shudder down to his nightmare. 4 The witness trees blaze themselves a last time: the road trembles as it starts across swampland streaked with shined water, a lethe- wind of chill air touches me all over my body, certain brain cells crackle like softwood in a great fire or die, each step a shock, a shattering underfoot of mirrors sick of the itch of our face-bones under their skins, as memory reaches out and lays bloody hands on the future, the haunted shoes rising and falling through the dust, wings of dust lifting around them, as they flap down the brainwaves of the temporal road. 5 Is it the foot, which rubs the cobblestones and snakestones all its days, this lowliest of tongues, whose lick-tracks tell our history of errors to the dust behind, which is the last trace in us of wings? And is it the hen's nightmare, or her secret dream, to scratch the ground forever eating the minutes out of the grains of sand? 6 On this road on which I do not know how to ask for bread, on which I do not know how to ask for water, this path inventing itself through jungles of burnt flesh, ground of ground bones, crossing itself at the odor of blood, and stumbling on, I long for the mantle of the great wanderers, who lighted their steps by the lamp of pure hunger and pure thirst, and whichever way they lurched was the way. 7 But when the Crone held up my crystal skull to the moon, when she passed my shoulder bones across the Aquarian stars, she said: You live under the Sign of the Bear, who flounders through chaos in his starry blubber: poor fool, poor forked branch of applewood, you will feel all your bones break over the holy waters you will never drink. IV DEAR STRANGER EXTANT IN MEMORY BY THE BLUE JUNIATA 1 Having given up on the deskman passed out under his clock, who was to have banged it is morning on the police-locked, sheetmetal door, I can hear the chime of the Old Tower, tinny sacring-bell drifting out over the city-chyme of our loves the peristalsis of the will to love forever drives down, grain after grain, into the last, coldest room, which is memory- and listen for the maggots inhabiting beds old men have died in to crawl out, to break into the brain and cut the nerves which keep the book of solitude. 2 Dear Galway, It began late one April night when I couldn't sleep. It was the dark of the moon. My hand felt numb, the pencil went over the page drawn on its way by I don't know what. It drew circles and figure eights and mandalas. I cried. I had to drop the pencil. I was shaking. I went to bed and tried to pray. At last I relaxed. Then I felt my mouth open. My tongue moved, my breath wasn't my own. The whisper which forced itself through my teeth said, Virginia, your eyes shine back to me from my own world. O God, I thought. My breath came short, my heart opened. O God I thought, now I have a demon lover. Yours, faithless to this life, Virginia 3 At dusk, by the blue Juniata- "a rural America," the magazine said, "now vanished, but extant in memory, a primal garden lost forever . . ." ("You see," I told Mama, "we just think we're here . . .") the root-hunters go out into the woods, pull up love-roots from the virginal glades, bend the stalks over shovel-handles and lever them up, the huge, bass, final thrump as each root unclutches from its spot. 4 Take kettle of blue water. Boil over twigfire of ash wood. Grind root. Throw in. Let macerate. Reheat over ash ashes. Bottle. Stopper with thumb of dead man. Ripen forty days in horse dung in the wilderness. Drink. Sleep. And when you rise- if you do rise-it will be in the sothic year made of the raised salvages of the fragments all unaccomplished of years past, scraps and jettisons of time mortality could not grind down into his meal of blood and laughter. And if there is one more love to be known, one more poem to be opened into life, you will find it here or nowhere. Your hand will move on its own down the curving path, drawn down by the terror and terrible lure of vacuum: a face materializes into your hands, on the absolute whiteness of pages a poem writes itself out: its title-the dream of all poems and the text of all loves-"Tenderness toward Existence." 5 On this bank-our bank- of the blue, vanished water, you lie, crying in your bed, hearing those small, fearsome thrumps of leave-taking trespassing the virginal woods at dusk. I, too, have eaten the meals of the dark shore. In time's own mattress, where a sag shaped as a body lies next to a sag-graves tossed into it by those who came before, lovers, or loving friends, or strangers, who loved here, or ground their nightmared teeth here, or talked away their one-night stands, the sanctus-bell going out each hour to die against the sheetglass city- I lie without sleeping, remembering the ripped body of hen, the warmth of hen flesh frightening my hand, all her desires, all her deathsmells, blooming again in the starlight. And then the wait- not long, I grant, but all my life- for the small, soft thud of her return among the stones. Can it ever be true- all bodies, one body, one light made of everyone's darkness together? 6 Dear Galway, I have no one to turn to because God is my enemy. He gave me lust and joy and cut off my hands. My brain is smothered with his blood. I asked why should I love this body I fear. He said, It is so lordly, it can never be shaped again-dear, shining casket. Have you never been so proud of a thing you wanted it for your prey? His voice chokes my throat. Soul of asps, master and taker: he wants to kill me. Forgive my blindness. Yours, in the darkness, Virginia 7 Dear stranger extant in memory by the blue Juniata, these letters across space I guess will be all we will know of one another. So little of what one is threads itself through the eye of empty space. Never mind. The self is the least of it. Let our scars fall in love. V IN THE HOTEL OF LOST LIGHT 1 In the left- hand sag the drunk smelling of autopsies died in, my body slumped out into the shape of his, I watch, as he must have watched, a fly tangled in mouth-glue, whining his wings, concentrated wholly on time, time, losing his way worse down the downward-winding stairs, his wings whining for life as he shrivels in the gaze from the spider's clasped forebrains, the abstracted stare in which even the nightmare spatters out its horrors and dies. Now the fly ceases to struggle, his wings flutter out the music blooming with failure of one who gets ready to die, as Roland's horn, winding down from the Pyrenees, saved its dark, full flourishes for last. 2 In the light left behind by the little spiders of blood who garbled their memoirs across his shoulders and chest, the room echoes with the tiny thrumps of crotch hairs plucking themselves from their spots; on the stripped skin the love-sick crab lice struggle to unstick themselves and sprint from the doomed position- and stop, heads buried for one last taste of the love-flesh. Flesh of his excavated flesh, fill of his emptiness, after-amanuensis of his after-life, I write out for him in this languished alphabet of worms, these last words of himself, post for him his final postcards to posterity. 4 I sat out by twigfires flaring in grease strewn from the pimpled limbs of hen, I blacked out into oblivion by that crack in the curb where the forget-me blooms, I saw the ferris wheel writing its huge, desolate zeroes in neon on the evening skies, I painted my footsoles purple for the day when the beautiful color would show, I staggered death-sentences down empty streets, the cobblestones assured me, it shall be so, I heard my own cries already howled inside bottles the waves washed up on beaches, I ghostwrote my prayers myself in the body-Arabic of these nightmares. "If the deskman knocks, griping again about the sweet, excremental odor of opened cadaver creeping out from under the door, tell him, 'Friend, To Live has a poor cousin, who calls tonight, who pronounces the family name To Leaves she changes each visit the flesh-rags on her bones." 5 Violet bruises come out all over his flesh, as invisible fists start beating him a last time; the whine of omphalos blood starts up again, the puffed bellybutton explodes, the carnal nightmare soars back to the beginning. 6 As for the bones to be tossed into the aceldama back of the potting shop, among shards and lumps which caught vertigo and sagged away into mud, or crawled out of fire crazed or exploded, they shall re-arise in the pear tree, in spring, to shine down on two clasping what they dream is one another. As for these words scattered into the future- posterity is one invented too deep in its past to hear them. 7 The foregoing scribed down in March, of the year Seventy, on my sixteen-thousandth night of war and madness, in the Hotel of Lost Light, under the freeway which roams out into the dark of the moon, in the absolute spell of departure, and by the light from the joined hemispheres of the spider's eyes. VI THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED INCORRUPTIBLE 1 A piece of flesh gives off smoke in the field- carrion, caput mortuum, orts, pelf, fenks, sordes, gurry dumped from hospital trashcans. Lieutenant! This corpse will not stop burning! 2 That you Captain? Sure, sure I remember-I still hear you lecturing at me on the intercom, Keep your guns up, Burnsie! and then screaming, Stop shooting, for crissake, Burnsie, those are friendliest But crissake, Captain, I'd already started, burst after burst, little black pajamas jumping and falling . . . and remember that pilot who'd bailed out over the North, how I shredded him down to catgut on his strings? one of his slant eyes, a piece of his smile, sail past me every night right after the sleeping pill . . . "It was only that I loved the sound of them, I guess I just loved the feel of them sparkin' off my hands . . ." 3 On the television screen: Do you have a body that sweats? Sweat that has odor? False teeth clanging into your breakfast? Case of the dread? Headache so perpetual it may outlive you? Armpits sprouting hair? Piles so huge you don't need a chair to sit at a table? We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed . . . 4 In the Twentieth Century of my trespass on earth, having exterminated one billion heathens, heretics, Jews, Moslems, witches, mystical seekers, black men, Asians, and Christian brothers, every one of them for his own good, a whole continent of red men for living in unnatural community and at the same time having relations with the land, one billion species of animals for being sub-human, and ready to take on the bloodthirsty creatures from the other planets, I, Christian man, groan out this testament of my last will. I give my blood fifty parts polystyrene, twenty-five parts benzene, twenty-five parts good old gasoline, to the last bomber pilot aloft, that there shall be one acre in the dull world where the kissing flower may bloom, which kisses you so long your bones explode under its lips. My tongue goes to the Secretary of the Dead to tell the corpses, "I'm sorry, fellows, the killing was just one of those things difficult to pre-visualize-like a cow, say, getting hit by lightning." My stomach, which has digested four hundred treaties giving the Indians eternal right to their land, I give to the Indians, I throw in my lungs which have spent four hundred years sucking in good faith on peace pipes. My soul I leave to the bee that he may sting it and die, my brain to the fly, his back the hysterical green color of slime, that he may suck on it and die, my flesh to the advertising man, the anti-prostitute, who loathes human flesh for money. I assign my crooked backbone to the dice maker, to chop up into dice, for casting lots as to who shall see his own blood on his shirt front and who his brother's, for the race isn't to the swift but to the crooked. To the last man surviving on earth I give my eyelids worn out by fear, to wear in his long nights of radiation and silence, so that his eyes can't close, for regret is like tears seeping through closed eyelids. I give the emptiness my hand: the pinkie picks no more noses, slag clings to the black stick of the ring finger, a bit of flame jets from the tip of the fuck-you finger, the first finger accuses the heart, which has vanished, on the thumb stump wisps of smoke ask a ride into the emptiness. In the Twentieth Century of my nightmare on earth, I swear on my chromium testicles to this testament and last will of my iron will, my fear of love, my itch for money, and my madness. 5 In the ditch snakes crawl cool paths over the rotted thigh, the toe bones twitch in the smell of burnt rubber, the belly opens like a poison nightflower, the tongue has evaporated, the nostril hairs sprinkle themselves with yellowish- white dust, the five flames at the end of each hand have gone out, a mosquito sips a last meal from this plate of serenity. And the fly, the last nightmare, hatches himself. 6 I ran my neck broken I ran holding my head up with both hands I ran thinking the fumes the flames may burn the oboe but listen buddy boy they can't touch the notes! 7 A few bones lie about in the smoke of bones. Membranes, effigies pressed into grass, mummy windings, desquamations, sags incinerated mattresses gave back to the world, memories left in mirrors on whorehouse ceilings, angel's wings flagged down into the snows of yesteryear, kneel on the scorched earth in the shapes of men and animals: do not let this last hour pass, do not remove this last, poison cup from our lips. And a wind holding the cries of love-making from all our nights and days moves among the stones, hunting for two twined skeletons to blow its last cry across. Lieutenant! This corpse will not stop burning! VII LITTLE SLEEP'S-HEAD SPROUTING HAIR IN THE MOONLIGHT 1 You scream, waking from a nightmare. When I sleepwalk into your room, and pick you up, and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me hard, as if clinging could save us. I think you think I will never die, I think I exude to you the permanence of smoke or stars, even as my broken arms heal themselves around you. 2 I have heard you tell the sun, don't go down, I have stood by as you told the flower, don't grow old, don't die. Little Maud, I would blow the flame out of your silver cup, I would suck the rot from your fingernail, I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light, I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones, I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body, I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood, I would let nothing of you go, ever, until washerwomen feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands, and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades, and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague, and iron twists weapons toward the true north, and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress, and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men, and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the dark, O corpse-to-be . . . And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry, this the nightmare you wake screaming from: being forever in the pre-trembling of a house that falls. 3 In a restaurant once, everyone quietly eating, you clambered up on my lap: to all the mouthfuls rising toward all the mouths, at the top of your voice you cried your one word, caca! caca! caca! and each spoonful stopped, a moment, in midair, in its withering steam. Yes, you cling because I, like you, only sooner than you, will go down the path of vanished alphabets, the roadlessness to the other side of the darkness, your arms like the shoes left behind, like the adjectives in the halting speech of old men, which once could call up the lost nouns. 4 And you yourself, some impossible Tuesday in the year Two Thousand and Nine, will walk out among the black stones of the field, in the rain, and the stones saying over their one word, ci-gicirct, ci-gicirct, ci-gicirct, and the raindrops hitting you on the fontanel over and over, and you standing there unable to let them in. 5 If one day it happens you find yourself with someone you love in a cafe at one end of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar where white wine stands in upward opening glasses, and if you commit then, as we did, the error of thinking, one day all this will only be memory, learn, as you stand at this end of the bridge which arcs, from love, you think; into enduring love learn to reach deeper into the sorrows to come-to touch the almost imaginary bones under the face, to hear under the laughter the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss the mouth which tells you, here, here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones. The still undanced cadence of vanishing. 6 In the light the moon sends back, I can see in your eyes the hand that waved once in my father's eyes, a tiny kite wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look: and the angel of all mortal things lets go the string. 7 Back you go, into your crib. The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell. Your eyes close inside your head, in sleep. Already in your dreams the hours begin to sing. Little sleep's-head sprouting hair in the moonlight, when I come back we will go out together, we will walk out together among the ten thousand things, each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages of dying is love. VIII THE CALL ACROSS THE VALLEY OF NOT-KNOWING 1 In the red house sinking down into ground rot, a lamp at one window, the marled ashes letting a single flame go free, a shoe of dreaming iron nailed to the wall, two mismatched halfnesses lying side by side in the darkness, I can feel with my hand the foetus rouse himself with a huge, fishy thrash, and re-settle in his darkness. Her hair glowing in the firelight, her breasts full, her belly swollen, a sunset of firelight wavering all down one side, my wife sleeps on, happy, far away, in some other, newly opened room of the world. 2 Sweat breaking from his temples, Aristophanes ran off at the mouth-made it all up, nightmared it all up on the spur of that moment which has stabbed us ever since: that each of us is a tom half whose lost other we keep seeking across time until we die, or give up- or actually find her: as I myself, in an Ozark Airlines DC-6 droning over towns made of crossroads, headed down into Waterloo, Iowa, actually found her, held her face a few hours in my hands; and for reasons- cowardice, loyalties, all which goes by the name "necessity" left her . . . 3 And yet I think it must be the wound, the wound itself, which lets us know and love, which forces us to reach out to our misfit and by a kind of poetry of the soul, accomplish, for a moment, the wholeness the drunk Greek extrapolated from his high or flagellated out of an empty heart, that purest, most tragic concumbence, strangers clasped into one, a moment, of their moment on earth. 4 She who lies halved beside me-she and I once watched the bees, dreamers not yet dipped into the acids of the craving for anything, not yet burned down into flies, sucking the blossom-dust from the pear-tree in spring, we two lay out together under the tree, on earth, beside our empty clothes, our bodies opened to the sky, and the blossoms glittering in the sky floated down and the bees glittered in the blossoms and the bodies of our hearts opened under the knowledge of tree, on the grass of the knowledge of graves, and among the flowers of the flowers. And the brain kept blossoming all through the body, until the bones themselves could think, and the genitals sent out wave after wave of holy desire until even the dead brain cells surged and fell in god-like, androgynous fantasies- and I understood the unicorn's phallus could have risen, after all, directly out of thought itself. 5 Of that time in a Southern jail, when the sheriff, as he cursed me and spat, took my hand in his hand, rocked from the pulps the whorls and tented archways into the tabooed realm, that underlife where the canaries of the blood are singing, pressed the flesh-flowers into the dirty book of the police-blotter, afterwards what I remembered most was the care, the almost loving, animal gentleness of his hand on my hand. Better than the rest of us, he knows the harshness of that cubicle in hell where they put you with all your desires undiminished, and with no body to appease them. And when he himself floats out on a sea he almost begins to remember, floats out into a darkness he has known already; when the moan of wind and the gasp of lungs call to each other among the waves and the wish to float comes to matter not at all as he sinks under, is it so impossible to think he will dream back to all the hands black and white he took in his hands as the creation touches him a last time all over his body? 6 Suppose I had stayed with that woman of Waterloo, suppose we had met on a hill called Safa, in our own country, that we had lain out on the grass and looked into each other's blindness, under leaf-shadows wavering across our bodies in the drifts of sun, our faces inclined toward each other, as hens incline their faces when the heat flows from the warmed egg back into the whole being, and the silver moon had stood still for us in the middle of heaven- I think I might have closed my eves, and moved from then on like the born blind, their faces gone into heaven already. 7 We who live out our plain lives, who put our hand into the hand of whatever we love as it vanishes, as we vanish, and stumble toward what will be, simply by arriving, a kind of fate, some field, maybe, of flaked stone scattered in starlight where the flesh swaddles its skeleton a last time before the bones go their way without us, might we not hear, even then, the bear call from his hillside-a call, like ours, needing to be answered-and the dam-bear call back across the darkness of the valley of not-knowing the only word tongues shape without intercession, yes . . . yes . . . ? IX THE PATH AMONG THE STONES 1 On the path winding upward, toward the high valley of waterfalls and flooded, hoof-shattered meadows of spring where fish-roots boil in the last grails of light on the water, and vipers pimpled with urges to fly drape the black stones hissing sheet! sheet!-land of quills and inkwells of skulls filled with black water- I come to a field glittering with the thousand sloughed skins of arrowheads, stones which shuddered and leapt forth to give themselves into the broken hearts of the living who gave themselves back, broken, to the stone. 2 I close my eyes: on the heat-rippled beaches where the hills came down to the sea, the luminous beach dust pounded out of funeral shells, I can see them living without me, dying without me, the wing and egg shaped stones, broken war-shells of slain fighting conches, dog-eared immortality shells in which huge constellations of slime, by the full moon, writhed one more coat of invisibility on a speck of sand, and the agates knocked from circles scratched into the dust with the click of a wishbone breaking, inward-swirling globes biopsied out of sunsets never to open again, and that wafer-stone which skipped ten times across the water, suddenly starting to run as it went under, and the zeroes it left, that met and passed into each other, they themselves smoothing themselves from the water . . . 3 I walk out from myself, among the stones of the field, each sending up its ghost-bloom into the starlight, to float out over the trees, seeking to be one with the unearthly fires kindling and dying in space-and falling back, knowing the sadness of the wish to alight back among the glitter of bruised ground, the stones holding between pasture and field, the great, granite nuclei, glimmering, even they, with ancient inklings of madness and war. 4 A way opens at my feet. I go down the night-lighted mule-steps into the earth, the footprints behind me filling already with pre-sacrificial trills of canaries, go down into the unbreathable goaf of everything I ever craved and lost. An old man, a stone lamp at his forehead, squats by his hell-flames, stirs into his pot chopped head of crow, strings of white light, opened tail of peacock, dressed body of canary, robin breast dragged through the mud of battlefields, wrung-out blossom of caput mortuum flower-salts it all down with sand stolen from the upper bells of hourglasses . . . Nothing. Always nothing. Ordinary blood boiling away in the glare of the brow lamp. 5 And yet, no, perhaps not nothing. Perhaps not ever nothing. In clothes woven out of the blue spittle of snakes, I crawl up: I find myself alive in the whorled archway of the fingerprint of all things, skeleton groaning, blood-strings wailing the wail of all things. 6 The witness trees heal their scars at the flesh fire, the flame rises off the bones, the hunger to be new lifts off my soul, an eerie blue light blooms on all the ridges of the world. Somewhere in the legends of blood sacrifice the fatted calf takes the bonfire into his arms, and he burns it. 7 As above: the last scattered stars kneel down in the star-form of the Aquarian age: a splash on the top of the head, on the grass of this earth even the stars love, splashes of the sacred waters . . . So below: in the graveyard the lamps start lighting up, one for each of us, in all the windows of stone. X LASTNESS 1 The skinny waterfalls, footpaths wandering out of heaven, strike the cliffside, leap, and shudder off. Somewhere behind me a small fire goes on flaring in the rain, in the desolate ashes. No matter, now, whom it was built for, it keeps its flames, it warms everyone who might wander into its radiance, a tree, a lost animal, the stones, because in the dying world it was set burning. 2 A black bear sits alone in the twilight, nodding from side to side, turning slowly around and around on himself, scuffing the four-footed circle into the earth. He sniffs the sweat in the breeze, he understands a creature, a death-creature watches from the fringe of the trees, finally he understands I am no longer here, he himself from the fringe of the trees watches a black bear get up, eat a few flowers,trudge away, all his fur glistening in the rain. And what glistening! Sancho Fergus, my boychild, had such great shoulders, when he was born his head came out, the rest of him stuck. And he opened his eyes: his head out there all alone in the room, he squinted with pained, barely unglued eves at the ninth-month's blood splashing beneath him on the floor. And almost smiled, I thought, almost forgave it all in advance. When he came wholly forth I took him up in my hands and bent over and smelled the black, glistening fur of his head, as empty space must have bent over the newborn planet and smelled the grasslands and the ferns. 3 Walking toward the cliff overhanging the river, I call out to the stone, and the stone calls back, its voice hunting among the rubble for my ears. Stop. As you approach an echoing cliffside, you sense the line where the voice calling from stone no longer answers, turns into stone, and nothing comes back. Here, between answer and nothing, I stand, in the old shoes flowed over by rainbows of hen-oil, each shoe holding the bones which ripple together in the communion of the step, and which open out in front into toes, the whole foot trying to dissolve into the future. A clatter of elk hooves. Has the top sphere emptied itself? Is it true the earth is all there is, and the earth does not last? On the river the world floats by holding one corpse. Stop. Stop here. Living brings you to death, there is no other road. 4 This is the tenth poem and it is the last. It is right at the last, that one and zero walk off together, walk off the end of these pages together, one creature walking away side by side with the emptiness. Lastness is brightness. It is the brightness gathered up of all that went before. It lasts. And when it does end there is nothing, nothing left, in the rust of old cars, in the hole torn open in the body of the Archer, in river-mist smelling of the weariness of stones, the dead lie, empty, filled, at the beginning, and the first voice comes craving again out of their mouths. 5 That Bach concert I went to so long ago- the chandeliered room of ladies and gentlemen who would never die . . . the voices go out, the room becomes hushed, the violinist puts the irreversible sorrow of his face into the opened palm of the wood, the music begins: a shower of rosin, the bow-hairs listening down all their length to the wail, the sexual wail of the back-alleys and blood strings we have lived still crying, still singing, from the sliced intestine of cat. 6 This poem if we shall call it that, or concert of one divided among himself, this earthward gesture of the sky-diver, the worms on his back still spinning forth and already gnawing away the silks of his loves, who could have saved him, this free floating of one opening his arms into the attitude of flight, as he obeys the necessity and falls . . . 7 Sancho Fergus! Don't cry! Or else, cry. On the body, on the blued flesh, when it is laid out, see if you can find the one flea which is laughing.