THE YOUNG DEAD
(in memoriam to all the young victims of war)
in the blue fires of midnight
we weep for the children
we will never meet
little naked ghosts
that will not know warmth
or filaments of memory
there is no loneliness like theirs
nothing for them to do but
circle the long days
in the green countries of the mind
still visible but forever out of reach.
we sense the air blowing through cracks in our lives
each night dreams tilt the ancient light of stars
and shift positions toward the young dead
never changing or aging
now perfect in their absence
we watch the young asleep in a universe
just outside our arms
and if they dream a moment
they will see us there
smiling in an older language
waving them on with casual hands and shuttered hearts
and when we step out of our bodies
our spirits will stand guard
until the moon opens her white lips
and welcomes us.
AND THE BLIND
And the blind whisper to each other in thin voices.
They ask me to describe darkness.
I begin with the charted edge of the sea,
winds trapped in caves, a wheel turning
away from itself.
I have gone into the hollow place
behind my eyes, the outer edge
of sight moving on white lizard feet.
No longer blinded by the visible,
the world is nearer in the dark.
A DISTANCE FURTHER THAN HEAVEN
In a world half remembered
a woman scrubbed sheets in the Monday washtub.
A man hammered shingles in the leaky roof.
A girl washed her hair in the kitchen sink
careful not to clog the drain.
While in rooms of broken English,
people hummed songs from another country,
a music loneliness might sing to itself.
The old drowsed and dreamed:
their blood circulating through used hearts,
hands marinating the past,
cracked voices recalling
how simple and warm it was,
timeless and good however bitter the brew
and warnings passed on from father to child
When time was forever now, we
listened to their stories
waiting for the oven to heat,
the bread to bake,
with no future to frighten us
or break our hearts
and no one to warn us
that freshly baked bread
would not keep us safe forever.
Even in the warmth of the wood-burning stove
with Father dozing over his Daily News
while Mother stitched darkness into worn shirt collars.
Restless, we longed for their permission to leave.
But in a small glass ball on the kitchen table
where it's always snowing
some part of us remains
in a dream of lost and secret storms
listening to the stillness of snow.
Bench sitters on upper Broadway
count passing cars and
pavement cracks spilling over
into empty lots
Store fronts tilt, weather-scoured,
like old customers
leaning on carts in Safeway aisles
waiting for the round-up
back to one-room lives.
Light dies out.
The street steps into darkness.
They stand on sidewalks
as the past leaks in.
Then, like a slow coming-out of sleep, they
cook the same soup bone
down to stock and vapor,
empty the pot,
and wait for a surprise.
They didn't plan it this way.
Nothing for the ears.
Nothing for the eyes.
And night tapering off to a shirt
hanging on a nail and a saucer
filled with all the cold mornings ahead.
WHERE THE MOMENT BEGINS
(to an immigrant's name change by border guards)
He stood before the mirror trying it on
like a new silk suit. Although he
buttoned and unbuttoned it with care, it
never felt right, this new name.
But his children slipped into it
like worms in wet earth.
One day, he took it to the tailor
had it nipped in the waist, trousers cuffed
and when he came home from the shop
suspended it from a padded hanger
brushed the insults mouthed by strangers
still clinging like lint.
After supper he practiced writing
until his signature raised its head in greeting.
Then he tongued new words clinging to his lips
like steamed milk scalding him a little
while the young spread sweet swarms of language
over mother's fresh baked bread.
When the children grew into their lives
they looked for gifts hidden in mirrors
reached into closets for his whole cloth suits
studied old photographs for the perfect fit
while parents lodged deep in seams
stitched them together.
Memory's tidal flow
lifts them into its dark arms.
Again, they see their father
at the kitchen table, sipping tea
through a sugar cube, smiling
If I could change us now we'd never change.
The past relived and almost understood
the children listen for his echoes calling
Back there, the family lay dreaming
of somewhere in another country.
This is the country
and now is where the moment begins.
BECOMING WHAT IT IS
Simone de Beauvoir
The compulsive universe hoards another day
the sweet swindle of spring
summer's hazy veil
autumn' s vermilion and ash
and the secret cave she hid in
full of waiting
lodged in the stillness of an earth
lying stunned under some strange heaven.
She will ask her breath
what it is to be human,
how it feels to be.
She will trace it to its roots,
hers the choice, the act,
irrational or wise.
In the universe of lost things
or the midnight mind's wild schemes,
she knows there is only now
and the desert stillness
is the silence of her heart.
Even if nothing is her only something
she is and is
not like a stone, a tree, a tiger
with their fixed essence,
what they do and who they are.
But she, thrown into the vast,
has the power of rejecting.
She hears a hairline crack before the rubble,
listens for thunder in the afternoon
and as she walks the narrow paths of thoughts,
hers the choice,
the move that opens wide.
Between the known and the unknown,
all names are but one name
and the power to name is finally hers.
Copyright © 2007 Ruth Daigon