Issue 89, Fall 1983
Yes, I am home again, and alone.
Today wrote letters, then took my dog
Out through the sad November woods.
The leaves have fallen while I was away.
The ground is golden, while above
The maples are stripped of all color.
The ornamental cherries, red when I left.
Have paled now to translucent yellow.
Yes, I am home again but home has changed.
And I within this cultivated space
That I have made my own, feel at a loss.
Disoriented. All the safe doors
Have come unlocked and too much light
Has flooded every room. Where can I go?
Not toward you three thousand miles away
Lost in your own rich life, given me
For an hour.
Read between the lines.
Then meet me in the silence if you can.
The long silence of winter when I shall
Make poems out of nothing, out of loss.
And at times hear your healing laughter.
November opens the sky. I look out
On an immense perimeter of ocean, blue
On every side, through the great oak
That screens it off all summer, see surf
Edging the rocks white on the other side.
The November muse who is with me now
Gives me wisdom and laughter, also clarity.
Aware of old age for the first time, accept
That I am old, and this sudden passion must be
A single sharp cry, torn out of me, as when
A few days ago on the ferry to Vancouver
I saw an eagle fly down in a great arc.
His fierce head flashing white among the gulls.
The ardor of seventy years seizes the moment
And must be held free, outside time.
Must learn to bear with the cleared space.
The futureless flame, and use it well.
Must rejoice in the still, quiet air
And this ineluctable solitude.
No letter from the muse. Time out.
Nevertheless I am floated on her presence.
Her strong reality, swung out above
Everything else that happens. In the mail
News of two brutal murders, and a wedding.
News of a poet friend in deep depression.
News from strangers reading my poems
And comforted, they say. I am suspended.
Wake before dawn to watch the sun come
Up from leaden waters every morning.
Turning the whole sky orange as it rises.
Slowly I learn the self who is emerging
As though newborn after a sterile summer.
Alone? Perhaps. But filled to the brim
With all that comes and goes, rejoicing.
Now there is someone to hold the kite
As it is tossed by the wind, keep it floating.
I manage better than I have for months to be
Open and balanced. The muse is there
To let the kite fly as high as it can.
Then slowly draw it in when there is peril.
So many times this summer it was broken.
Caught up in a tree or unable to fly.
The kite, marvelous muse, is in your hands.
There was your voice, astonishment.
Falling into the silence suddenly
As though there were no continent
Between its warmth and me at my desk.
Bringing joy to the roots, a giant gift
Across time. Five in the morning there.
Three thousand miles to cover instantly.
How is it done? How for that matter
Did it all happen when we met?
Time telescoped, years cast away.
And primal being finding this present
Where we were lifted beyond age.
Outside responsibilities, newfound.
In a way stranded, in a way home at last?
And in your tender laughter at me
Some total acceptance of all that I am.
Of all that is to be or not ever to be
As time goes on and we are lost
Or found in it over and over again.
From a distance the ocean looks calm.
Gray and unbroken stretching out to Spain,
But it is seamed with hidden tumult.
The long swells come in slowly from below
And build to immense fluid walls
Driven in by some deep pulse far away.
Ominous while they stand suspended
Then at the rock edge tumble, broken.
And send up shattered towers of white foam.
Muse, do you feel the tumult over there?
Or is it only steadfastness of mountains
Today that holds you still and silent?
While I, like one of the black ducks
Bobbing out there, must keep my balance.
Stay clear of the rocks as they do
Who know how to ride this tumult safely
And play its perils like a game.
“When a woman feels alone, when the room
Is full of daemons,” the Nootka tribe
Tells us, “The Old Woman will be there.”
She has come to me over three thousand miles
And what does she have to tell me, troubled
“By phantoms in the night”? Is she really here?
What is the saving word from so deep in the past.
From as deep as the ancient root of the redwood.
From as deep as the primal bed of the ocean.
From as deep as a woman’s heart sprung open
Again through a hard biah or a hard death?
Here under the shock of love, I am open
To you. Primal Spirit, one with rock and wave.
One with the survivors of flood and fire.
Who have rebuilt their homes a million times.
Who have lost their children and borne them again.
The words I hear are strength, laughter, endurance.
Old Woman I meet you deep inside myself.
There in the rootbed of fertility.
World without end, as the legend tells it.
Under the words you are my silence.
Who has spoken of the unicorn in old age?
She who was hunted for her strangeness.
Androgynous, fleeing her pursuers, hopeful
When she was young that she could bow her horn
Before the perfect innocence and purity
Of a virgin being. Who has wondered
Whether she did find shelter at last?
Or does she wander still, searching human faces
For the one who might speak to her
In her own language, look into her eyes
And gentle the wildness once and for all?
It may be that through that fervent pursuit
The unicorn has come to look for wisdom
And experience rather than innocence.
That she looks for a woman who has suffered
And become like gold, the dross beaten out.
As round and whole as a wedding ring,
A woman who has laughed and wept her way
Through the dark wood and across the lake.
Who has borne children, and who is now
Marvelously open, transparent, and unafraid.
Who has imagined the unicorn grown old?
When I heard you say in a brisk voice
“Perhaps we should never meet again”.
The sun turned black, the tide froze,
I could feel the blood withering in my veins,
A breakdown of cells, death in my body.
It took an instant, three thousand miles.
And your voice alive in the room, to do it.
And now after days muffled in distress,
I must try to speak words when the reality
Is an immense silence, and nothing can be said.
Perhaps it is, after all, delusion and madness.
The poet forcing her muse to pay attention.
Forcing too much out of an hour of bliss.
Unable “to take love lightly as the grass
Grows on the weirs”, trying to hold back the tide
From ebbing into the deeps. Not possible.
Nevertheless is my answer to your never.
Whatever the reasons they are only reason.
And here in the universe of souls
Reason is not the master of the moment.
Was not when we met and stared into each other’s eyes
Like sleepers woken suddenly out of a dream.
Suffering a blaze of light. Was that madness?
Was it delusion? No, a gift from the goddess.
Nothing is possible. Nothing is real, you think.
Nevertheless.. .nevertheless.. .nevertheless...
The muse of course airs out the inner world.
Without her presence somewhere a cell
With no window, where the poet struggles.
Snake biting its tail. Narcissus
Drowned in his own image. The muse
Ripples the waters, opens doors.
Lets in sunlight, dazzles and delights.
She frees the poet from all obligations.
Guilt, doubt, to wander alone by the sea
Picking up shells, or contemplating mosses
In the woods, free to be herself, to sing,
Uncontaminated by duties, projected outward
Able to pay attention to the smallest stir
Of wind in the silence, to observe birds.
When the muse appears after long absence
Everything stops except the poem. It rises
In an unbroken wave and topples to silence.
There is no way to make it happen by will.
No muse appears when invoked, dire need
Will not rouse her pity.
She comes when she can,
She too, no doubt, rising from the sea
Like Aphrodite on her shell when it is time.
When the impersonal tide bears her to the shore
To play a difficult role she has not chosen.
To free a prisoner she has no reason to love.
What power is at work, then, what key
Opens the door into these mysteries?