History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
We have a tray, a pot of tea, a scone.
This is the hour
When one thing pours itself into another :
The gable of our house stored in shadow.
A spring planet bending ice
Into an absolute of light.
Your childhood ended years ago. There is
No path back to it. There is
No certainty I can find
The if or maybe that might remedy
An afternoon you walked up the hill
After school. In winter, in tears.
The fire smoulders down into cinders.
Lilac shivers in the March dark.
If love is a civilization,
As I once hoped it was,
And you and I are its living citizens
And if our words
Are less than rules and more than remedies
As we speak, maybe
Someone escapes from a wounded morning
In a small classroom and finds
The world is not stern, after all. Paper birds
Are folded and fly off in the playground.
And when lessons resume in the afternoon
The essay is easy. It is
A Day in the Life of a Penny.
Afterwards, at teatime, the sweets have old names –
Cinder Toffee Bullseye Marry Me Quick –
The children shout out and I listen
To hear your voice with theirs, but no
It’s here now telling me
How late the hour is, the birds almost up
And we smile at this
As we put the tray away,
Douse the fire and wash out the cups.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
I suppose that is the thing about New York. It is always a little more than you had hoped for. Each day, there, is so definitely a new day. “Now we’ll start over,” it seems to say every morning, “and come on, let’s hurry like anything.”
London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it. There is excitement ever running its streets. Each day, as you go out, you feel the little nervous quiver that is yours when you sit in the theater just before the curtain rises. Other places may give you a sweet and soothing sense of level; but in New York there is always the feeling of “Something’s going to happen.” It isn’t peace. But, you know, you do get used to peace, and so quickly. And you never get used to New York.
Family dinner night, and we are deciding what to save:
polar bears or slipper limpets. Girls in Afghanistan
or the wolf. We can’t save everything
but the kids are ready
with their banks, the season’s extra, the not-
ice cream. How does the Afghan girl feel
to make our list? We bring more and more
money to the table but the list outruns it.
My mother comes in from visiting a friend in hospice,
sick from all the chemo. When I get whatever it is, she says,
I want you to do nothing. It’s only May
and already they’ve declared a statewide drought.
Yesterday I hiked over a river that was not there.
Coral reefs, my son says, that’s what I want
to save. And so we do. Whatever is happening to us
is deductible. Silence of the was-river,
was-bear. In the movies everyone is building
some kind of ark.
New York is noisy.
New York is overcrowded.
New York is ugly.
New York is unhealthy.
New York is outrageously expensive.
New York is bitterly cold in winter.
New York is steaming hot in summer.
I wouldn’t live outside New York for anything in the world.
It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.
Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.
The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of