After Twelve Days of Rain

I couldn’t name it, the sweet
sadness welling up in me for weeks.
So I cleaned, found myself standing
in a room with a rag in my hand,
the birds calling time-to-go, time-to-go.
And like an old woman near the end
of her life I could hear it, the voice
of a man I never loved who pressed
my breasts to his lips and whispered
“My little doves, my white, white lilies.”
I could almost cry when I remember it.

I don’t remember when I began
to call everyone “sweetie,”
as if they were my daughters,
my darlings, my little birds.
I have always loved too much,
or not enough. Last night
I read a poem about God and almost
believed it–God sipping coffee,
smoking cherry tobacco. I’ve arrived
at a time in my life when I could believe
almost anything.

Today, pumping gas into my old car, I stood
hatless in the rain and the whole world
went silent–cars on the wet street
sliding past without sound, the attendant’s
mouth opening and closing on air
as he walked from pump to pump, his footsteps
erased in the rain–nothing
but the tiny numbers in their square windows
rolling by my shoulder, the unstoppable seconds
gliding by as I stood at the Chevron,
balanced evenly on my two feet, a gas nozzle
gripped in my hand, my hair gathering rain.

And I saw it didn’t matter
who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.
The black oily asphalt, the slick beauty
of the Iranian attendant, the thickening
clouds–nothing was mine. And I understood
finally, after a semester of philosophy,
a thousand books of poetry, after death
and childbirth and the startled cries of men
who called out my name as they entered me,
I finally believed I was alone, felt it
in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo
like a thin bell. And the sounds
came back, the slish of tires
and footsteps, all the delicate cargo
they carried saying thank you
and yes. So I paid and climbed into my car
as if nothing had happened–
as if everything mattered–What else could I do?

I drove to the grocery store
and bought wheat bread and milk,
a candy bar wrapped in gold foil,
smiled at the teenaged cashier
with the pimpled face and the plastic
name plate pinned above her small breast,
and knew her secret, her sweet fear,
Little bird. Little darling. She handed me
my change, my brown bag, a torn receipt,
pushed the cash drawer in with her hip
and smiled back.

— Dorianne Laux

How absolutely perfect, this poem. Just every single word.

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Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to a Nightingale

BY JOHN KEATS

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Part of this poem was featured in last weeks’ episode of Penny Dreadful. The devil – or some entity like – whispered part of this poem to Eva Green’s character, Vanessa Ives. The poetry beguiles her and she proceeds to sleep with the devil.
A few choice words are enough to convince anyone to do almost anything. I want to be so beguiled.
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The Tomb

The Tomb

By Thomas Stanley (1625–1678)

WHEN, cruel fair one, I am slain
By thy disdain,
And as a trophy of thy scorn
To some old tomb am borne,
Thy fetters must their power bequeath
To those of Death;
Nor can thy flame immortal burn
Like monumental fires within an urn.
Thus freed from thy proud empire, I shall prove
There is more liberty in Death than Love.

And when forsaken lovers come
To see my tomb,
Take heed thou mix not with the crowd
And as a victor, proud
To view the spoils thy beauty made,
Press near my shade!
Lest thy too cruel breath, or name,
Should fan my ashes back into a flame,
And thou, devour’d by this revengeful fire.
His sacrifice, who died as thine, expire.

Or should my dust thy pity move
That could not, love,
Thy sighs might wake me, and thy tears
Renew my life and years;
Or should thy proud insulting scorn
Laugh at my urn,
Kindly deceiv’d by thy disdain,
I might be smil’d into new life again.
Then come not near: since both thy love and hate
Have equal power to kill or animate.

But if cold earth or marble must
Conceal my dust,
Whilst, hid in some dark ruins, I
Dumb and forgotten lie,
The pride of all thy victory
Will sleep with me;
And they who should attest thy glory
Will or forget, or not believe this story.
Then, to increase thy triumph, let me rest,
(Since by thine eye slain,) buried in thy breast!

The line “liberty in death” was just vaguely mentioned in episode 2 of Season 2 of Sherlock, the BBC series. I decided to look it up and it seems many Sherlock fans took great interest in that particular phrase as well. It originates from this poem I presume.

“There is more Liberty in Death than Love.” This line particularly strongly resounds with my ideas about Port from The Sheltering Sky. I almost wish I had heard this line whilst I was reading the novel. I think it captures his unspoken life mantra. The only true freedom is death.

While I entirely and completely disagree with Port’s mentality it is an interesting juxtaposition to my own present-day ruminations on life, meaning, and existential quandaries. I’ve been very confused as of late because for the first time I am exploring meaning in my life. I think up until recently that sort of thing didn’t exactly matter… just living was enough. In a way it still is enough, but the WAY in which I live seems to matter now.

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