Poem Beginning in the Body and Ending in a Landscape

Photo by frankieleon

Partly wreckage
See

Left leg

Not going as the leg once went
Not light

The way the light once went

Before the light went dim
And a field grew out of the dimness

_________

Snow lay on the field

Like a Gettysburg of mice
In white uniforms

White combat boots and their small
White rifles

Spent beside them

_________

A blanket of mice
All down the hill

Then drifts of mice at the foot of the hill

Glared sharply in the darkness
Like a photo of the moon

In hard sunlight

And the tops of the campus trees
Iced over

Also glared
_________

Partly wreckage
The arms not going

As the arms

Once went
Names no longer clinging to their things

Ascending like a scarf

Of gathered breaths
To hang a few feet in the air

Above the field

_________

My boy
My self

I’m sorry that I

Had to leave you there
With snow all up your sleeves

And your snow pants soggy

And your left glove missing
And your buckle boots

That’s the way the light goes out of the world

_________

And if this poem were a dream
I’d see myself

Sledding downhill over mice

Mittened hands gripping
The wooden handles

Of my Flexible Flyer

My face directed downwards
Toward the drifts

My legs bent upwards

Boot soles pointed
Toward the sky

Starless over glowing earth

_________

The boy’s intention
Circulates at will

Through his limbs

Like water
Through a network of pipes

Which will one day rust

And stand empty
The boy’s house

Stands empty

And the walls
At one another glare

_________

In the kind of silence
That the voice of builders

Who arrive one Monday morning

To take the walls down
Cannot demolish

But which goes on beneath

The rip of saws and hammers
Curses shouts rough laughter

The boy’s house tells its stories

Even after another house is raised
On its empty footprint

And another family moves in

_________

The silence underneath the house
Goes on

And the darkness

Of that earlier time
Still looks in at the windows

That are no longer there

And the mice in the field
Go on being dead

And warm
Like a foot

Of April snow

_________

There are deeper silences

Underneath the silence
Inaccessible

But not destroyed

The silence of the people
Who passed this way before

Like dark trees flowing together

Up a hill
And at the top of the hill

They reach long fingers

Sticky with pitch
Up into the low dark sky

To fasten jewels there

Like lights
Fixed to the rafters of an attic

_________

Or maybe the boy sliding downhill

In the dark
Is dreaming me

I hope that’s true

Because that would mean
The boy’s alive

And not alone

And the world is dark
And for a moment safe

With the real wind pouring

Through the campus trees
My left hip hurts

And the instep of my left foot

Not going as the foot once went
But the boy

Sleds like water

Running over ice
And the mice glow softly in the field

He’s coming downhill

The way that I remember him
Now that he’s disappeared

Click here to read Jonathan Weinert on the origin of the poem.

Jonathan Weinert: Despite what the title claims, this poem actually began in a parking garage, near the Paramount theatre in Boston’s Downtown Crossing. I had just emerged from the pitch blackness of Lisa Dwan’s unsettling performance of three one-act plays by Samuel Beckett. By special dispensation of the Boston fire and police departments, the theatre was allowed to shut off all lights during the show, including the exit signs. In the intervals between the plays, therefore, the theatre was as silent and lightless as a sensory deprivation tank. In such a circumstance you have no choice but to turn inward and, as the brilliance of ordinary awareness fades out, the dream-making faculty fades in, the way the stars fade in during a solar eclipse.

After the performance, I felt disoriented and estranged, and stumbled my way to the car. As I sat behind the wheel trying to get a grip, the first few lines of the poem marched across my mind, news ticker style. I’ve learned to write these things down in the moment: even though I’m always convinced that I’ll remember them later, I never do.

I can’t identify so specifically the origins of the rest of the poem. I’d been reading early Ted Hughes, late Larry Levis, and Haruki Murakami, and all that came into it somehow. The mice invited themselves, as did the dimness, the snow, and the ancestral presences. Sometimes all you can do is open the door and get out of the way.

I scribbled out a draft of the entire poem in a fury a few weeks later, on a plane to L.A., then forgot about it for a month. In revision, I put it in an alternating 2-1-2-1 stanzaic arrangement that I’d been favoring.

Which explains very little. Much of it remains mysterious, even to me.

 

 

Image:  “The urgent snow is everywhere” by frankieleon, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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