LOVE IS LIKE SOUNDS
Late snow fell this early morning of spring.
At dawn I rose from bed, restless, and looked Out of my window, to wonder if there the snow Fell outside your bedroom, and you watching.
I played my game of solitaire. The cards Came out the same the third time through the deck.
The game was stuck. I threw the cards together, And watched the snow that could not do but fall.
Love is like sounds, whose last reverberations Hang on the leaves of strange trees, on mountains As distant as the curving of the earth, Where the snow hangs still in the middle of the air.
Each of us waking to the window’s light Has found the curtains changed, our pictures gone; Our furniture has vanished in the night And left us to an unfamiliar dawn; Even the contours of the room are strange And everything is change.
Waking, our minds construct of memory What figure stretched beside us, or what voice Shouted to pull us from our luxury And all the mornings leaning to our choice.
To put away both child and murderer The toys we played with just a month ago, That wisdom come, and make our progress sure, Began our exile with our lust to grow.
(Remembering a train I tore apart Because it knew my heart.) We move to move, and this perversity Betrays us into loving only loss.
We seek betrayal. When we cross the sea, It is the distance from our past we cross.
Not only from the intellectual child Time has removed us, but unyieldingly Cuts down the groves in which our Indians fi led And where the black of pines was mystery.
(I walked the streets of where I lived and grew, And all the streets were new.) The room of love is always rearranged.
Someone has torn the corner of a chair So that the past we call upon has changed, The scene deprived by an intruding tear.
Exiled by death from people we have known, We are reduced again by years, and try To call them back and clothe the barren bone, Not to admit that people ever die.
(A boy who talked and read and grew with me Fell from a maple tree.) But we are still alone, who love the dead, And always miss their action’s character, Caught in the cage of living, visited By no faint ghosts, by no gray men that were.
In years, and in the numbering of space, Moving away from what we grew to know, We stray like paper blown from place to place, Impelled by every element to go.
(I think of haying on an August day, Forking the stacks of hay.) We can remember trees and attitudes That foreign landscapes do not imitate; They grow distinct within the interludes Of memory beneath a stranger state.
The favorite toy was banished, and our act Was banishment of the self; then growing, we Betrayed the girls we loved, for our love lacked Self-knowledge of its real perversity.
(I loved her, but I told her I did not, And grew, and then forgot.) It was mechanical, and in our age, That cruelty should be our way of speech; Our movement is a single pilgrimage, Never returning; action does not teach.
In isolation from our present love We make her up, consulting memory, Imagining to watch her image move On daily avenues across a sea.
(All day I saw her daydreamed figure stand Out of the reach of hand.) Each door and window is a spectral frame In which her shape is for the moment found; Each lucky scrap of paper bears her name, And half-heard phrases imitate its sound.
Imagining, by exile kept from fact, We build of distance mental rock and tree, And make of memory creative act, Persons and worlds no waking eye can see.
(From lacking her, I built her new again, And loved the image then.) The manufactured country is so green The eyes of sleep are blinded by its shine; We spend our lust in that imagined scene But never wake to cross its borderline.
No man can knock his human fist upon The door built by his mind, or hear the voice He meditated come again if gone; We live outside the country of our choice.
(I wanted X. When X moved in with me, I could not wait to flee.) Our humanness betrays us to the cage Within whose limits each is free to walk, But where no one can hear our prayers or rage And none of us can break the walls to talk.
Exiled by years, by death no dream conceals, By worlds that must remain unvisited, And by the wounds that growing never heals, We are as solitary as the dead, Wanting to king it in that perfect land We make and understand.
And in this world whose pattern is unmade, Phases of splintered light and shapeless sand, We shatter through our motions and evade Whatever hand might reach and touch our hand.
Newdigate Prize, Oxford, 1953
WE’VE COME TO EXPECT
We’ve come to expect earthquakees, fires, hurricanes, and tidal waves from our whitecoated brothers whose laboratories shed radiation on land and landscape,
disabling cities. Foresighted citizens outfit granite arks in Idaho’s brown hills, stocked against flood, famine, pestilence, warrrrr, and hunger of neighbors,
with bulgur, freeze-dried Stroganoff, and Uzis.
Let’s remember: Our great-grandfathers holed up in mountains with pistols and pemmican, their manhood sufficient,
should they avoid peritonitis and gangrene, to perform the mechanic alchemy which liquefied landscape, dirt to nuggets, and sluiced a state golden.
Let’s remember not only the local wars over claims but a late conflict of siblings in aristocracy and the stock market, sharing destruction.
Or recollect the brothers who stayed back east laboring in the shoe factory, or their bosses who summered hunting in Scotland and reside forever
in the Protestant Cemetery at Rome among cats, the pyramid of Cestius, and Keats’s grave. What use are those forefathers to our condition?
We want comfort: Shall we consult Jefferson?
Alas, he’s busy conducting a call-in show for Republican-Democrats. Franklin?
He is occupied
obliterating SIN from Webster’s project.
If we approach doddering George Washington, he only smiles at us in his foolishness.
Shall we call upon
Abraham Lincoln for succor? No: The Great Emancipator succumbs to Grant’s whiskey.
As we approach the present, passing double Roosevelts, we do
not help ourselves not with old Eisenhower cursing at caddies; not with Nixon cursing.
But if we return past Jonathan Edwards, past Cotton Mather,
to the Israelites of the Mayfl ower who make covenant with Jehovah’s promised wilderness and the manna of Indian corn, who stay secure
in Adam’s fall and the broken promises of the remnant we discover ancestors appropriate to our lapsarian state: Their rage sustains us
THE PAINTED BED
Even when I danced erect by the Nile’s garden I constructed Necropolis.
Ten million fellaheen cells of my body floated stones to establish a white museum.” Grisly, foul, and terrific is the speech of bones, thighs and arms slackened into desiccated sacs of flesh hanging from an armature where muscle was, and fat.
I lie on the painted bed diminishing, concentrated on the journey I undertake to repose without pain in the palace of darkness, my body beside your body.”
You climbed Hawk’s Crag, a cellphone in your baggy shorts, and gazed into the leafing trees and famous blue water.
You telephoned, in love with the skin of the world. I heard you puff as you started to climb down, still talking, switching your phone from hand to hand as the stone holds required.
You sang show tunes sitting above me, clicking your fingers, swaying your shadowy torso. We attended to each other in a sensuous dazzle as global as suffering until gradual gathering spilled like water over the stone dam and we soared level across the long-lived lake.
But how can one flesh and consciousness adhere to another, knowing that every adherence ends in separation? I longed for your return, your face lit by a candle, your smile private as a kore’s under an inconstant flame and dreamt I stared into the fl at and black of water, afraid to drown.
It is half a year since we slept beside each other all night.
I wake hollow as a thighbone with its marrow picked out.
In falling snow, a crow pecks under the empty birdfeeder.
H When the house lights go out in wind and heavy snow, the afternoon already black, I lie frightened in darkness on the unsheeted bed. No one comes to my door.
Old age concludes in making wills and trusts and inventories, in knees that buckle going downstairs. Wretched in airless solitude, I want to call you, but if you hear my voice you will unplug your telephone and lie awake until morning.
I remember you striding toward me, hands in jean pockets, each step decisive, smiling as if you knew that the cool air kept a secret, but might be cajoled into revealing it.
Copyright © 2006 by Donald Hall. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.