(...coming back to my words, through the words of others...)(...I am still saying thanks, still he is giving, gone one year ago...)Thanks
by W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
By W. S. Merwin
I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war
don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity
just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice
he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally
it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop
he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England
as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry
he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't
you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write
(Two of my favorite poems by my favorite poet, on the
anniversary of his death.)
(Difficult if not impossible to pick favorites, really,
but these two seem timely.)
(With many thanks to Whimsy Mimsy
for the connections, for the muddled thoughts...)
(...let us stay deep in tides of our own...)
(...until the words come drifting by...)
“If you do something in the spirit of non-achievement, there is a good quality in it. So just to do something without any particular effort is enough.”
To make something of these times I
must make something so I will find
a frame in which to nail my thoughts.
I cannot beat this lone silence
and I cannot take this seedless
greening anymore, this yearning
growth that knows only down and in,
only dragging my thoughts into
the night where I cannot find them
though I remember having them,
remember how they felt if not
how they looked, remember them close
and warm, and thought them somehow grand
or at least telling at the time
I barely had them, but now? Now
I barely have them even less.
Now I am not sure if I have
them or if they have me. Now they
are lost in their own depths, swimming
silently in the rolling black
medium of their making. Now
they haunt me in their bare being
and unmake me and swim through me
and I will make nothing of them.
I did not listen to your leaving
as you left. I did not hear
the floorboards creaking, the scrape
of your fingernails on the wall
down the hall, the click-click
of them on the doorknob, the
catch-cracking of the latch opening
or the scream of the hinge of the door.
No, I did not hear them at all.
I stayed where I was in my chair
with my thoughts and my drink
and my stare but I did hear you stop.
I heard your breath catch in your throat.
I heard the hesitation in your step,
your two desires pulling you apart,
pulling you to pieces right there
on the threshold, right there in the hall.
I heard the split in you. All these things
I heard as you stood there, the house
ticking around you, the floor
stretching away down the hall.
I heard your cheek almost touch
your shoulder, your chin almost
touch your collar bone and then
I heard your head whip back to
front, the snap of the earth back
into place. The slam of the door
I did not hear, and again
the silence as I sat. I
was firm in the fabric
of the seat of the chair.
I was sewn there.
My skin tore
as I tried to rise.
So I didn’t.
So I let you.
(The third piece in a series of unrelated pieces that are somehow, in my mind, related)
There is a robin
singing in a tree somewhere,
telling the world he
is looking for a
mate. A robin sings in a
tree somewhere, telling
the world he has found
a mate. The tree somewhere is
a tulip in the
neighbor's front yard. Spring
has come. We drive by the same
people, sleeping in
bags on the sidewalk, waiting
for the world to warm.
(Been a little minute since I wrote one of these...)
That's what we had, maybe.
One day before our faces.
Now, this is where we are.
Trying on well-fitting boots.
We bought them. The book.
The line. The sinking thoughts.
Them too, we bought. “Fuck the
farm, we bought the boat!”
The oars and the ocean too.
And then we threw them all
in. Chopped the little ones
for our chum and threw them
in too. I can see them now,
our pieces, moving up from
the dark like bright fish. Our
beautiful boat is eating us.
This poem first appeared on my friend Jeremy Nathan Marks' project,
Poetry of the Resistance.