...or Other Person's Poems... So, The Cruelest Month (April, National Poetry [Writing] Month) is almost upon us. I have decided to undertake a variation or permutation of the Poem-A-Day project, something that I haven't done with any kind of real stick-to-it-ive-ness since about 2015, according to my records. This year, since I have extra time, I've decided to do (again) not just NaPoWriMo but NaPoReadMo....as I did way back in 2015... I have decided to read and post here one poem a day for the month of April. I am actually toying with the idea of doing TWO poems a day. One of my own as well as one by a favorite poet of mine. We'll see how my time and stamina go.... In preparation for this I am sharing this piece by the poet, Loren Eiseley, Why Did They Go? There were many lines in this poem that struck me and rang bell after bell in my belfry so I decided to type it out into my file of favorites on my computer (something that I have gotten in the habit of doing over the last few years with particularly memorable poems). As I have been reading and rereading this poem over the last few days, it has struck me more and more just how timely and timeless this piece is. Eiseley has a way of making you feel that you are looking down the long corridors of time and history and pre-history and on even into the foggy future. So, here you go..... (Uh, I should note that the soundtrack to this and probably many upcoming readings is provided by the sonic symphony of our new environs, Wabash and Tholozan Avenues, Interstate 44 and the Burllington-Northern, San Francisco Railway Hub....as heard from our front porch...) Why Did They Go by Loren Eiseley Why did they go, why did they go away— plesiosaurs, fish-reptiles, pterodactyls of the air, triceratops beneath an armored shield and frills of thorn, tyrannosaurs with little withered hands, but jaws more huge than anything that stalks the modern world— why did they go? Were they in the egg vulnerable? But then there trotted after, through green glades, horses the size of collies, gracefully stepping cats with teeth like knives. They roared, they roared, and then they struck, finding the jugular like adept assassins, searching through aeons till they came upon, in turn, camels, musk-oxen, antelope, and deer, also the throats of bison heavy-maned with giant horns. Mammoth, mastodon, beyond the knives of even such as these, they also ebbed away as the ice ebbed, as the first wolves grew scarcer, and as man, naked, shook his first flint-headed spear that had at last outsprung the giant cats. Why did they go, through eras, centuries, the strong, the strongest? No one knows. Now man is master here with leaping death, grenades, flame-throwers, the power of solar-flares, the force to hurl missiles against the moon. Now man is master here, a dinosaur, Gorgon, perhaps, incarnate once again. Note the shrunk arms, bipedal gait, contrived bulldozer jaws, but delicately manipulating still with small dry hands his final test-tube death. There they all lie, pteranodon, the deadly cats, dire wolves, cave lions, giant bears, caught in the strata not to be returned. Man deadly, deadlier, magical of brain, is he truly other? His seeming kind, the scaled ones of another age, roved the wide seas, basked in the sun, stalked, grew invincible, while tiny mammals watched behind fern fronds so long an age passed as though it held a wizardry that kept all shapes inviolate. Why did the lizards go? Why did the cats who carried Florentine daggers in their delicate mouths see fit to slip away? Why did the swift wild horses, giant condors, go, the finest of their kind? Why did they leave the Gila monster, mountain rattler, hooded cobra, safe, still, within the night? Man had not come with that all-sinister devouring brain. Why did they go? Because time and the world love change. No answer really, but I stare and ask what clock ticks in the heart. We, too, have come most recently from caverns in the rocks. Our flesh is linked to these great bones that we recover. Have a care, even in the symbol-shifting brain we may be unable to escape prophetic things. We may be wandering our own way on the roads of night, hearing the howl, the guttural laugh of that which will replace us. Soft-stepping cats, even the great wolves from the endless snow— I will come and lie beside you comfortably. It is the way written in rocks, the way of that mysterious nature I have ever followed. Only the cause escapes me. I am restless, comprehend quiet, am prepared to sleep as few men are, given the time when plants from the wild fields shower their seed and carefree rabbits hop upon Fifth Avenue, when all of us are gone, not I alone. Why do we go? The rocks give back strange answers, if at all. Brother pteranodon, I would have liked your wings; your lifted head, proud sabertooth, to snarl; mammoth, to trudge the world. I am not sure I love the cruelties found in our blood from some lost evil tree in our beginnings. May the powers forgive and seal us deep when we lie down. May harmless dormice creep and red leaves fall over the prisons where we wreaked our will, Dachau, Auschwitz, those places everywhere. If I could pray I would pray long for this.
(...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 Listen 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 Berryman 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...)
Do they hide behind... ...what we put upon them? Are they only there... ...as long as we look... ...or as deeply as we see?
I strongly encourage you to go check out her blog, especially her amazing story, ‘Recruit’, the print and audio versions of which are featured on Flock Literary Journal. Well worth the read AND the listen. A really touching and edgy story, well-presented by herself.
Many thanks, Rebecca!