[from Deborah Digges's Trapeze, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004]
Let's say for that time
I was an instrument forbidding music.
That spring no thief of fire.
I tapped from the source a self sick of love,
and then beyond sickness,
an invalid of my loathing.
Yes, loathing put me to bed each night
and burned my dreams,
in the morning woke me with strong coffee.
And this was loathing's greeting --
Get up. Drink.
All this in spite of the lilacs returning,
their odor the odor of life everlasting,
another season onward, another spring.
But they bloomed of a sudden pale in unison
like lifeboats rowing into dawn,
the passengers gone mad, exhausted in the open,
even the wives, the mothers
rescued for their children,
their lives, believe me, not their own.
Boats full of lilacs drifting thus,
each grayish bush against my gray house.
But theirs is a short season, a few weeks,
And I was glad to be rid of them,
rid of a thing that could touch in me
what might be called "mercy."
See how one's lips must kiss to make the m,
touch tongue to back of teeth and smile.
Pity's swept clean and conscious,
an ancient room whose floors resound,
but mercy's an asylum,
a house sliding forever out to sea.
As if I were expected to wade out into the yard each night
and swing a lantern!
And just this morning, still early into autumn,
I noticed how the lilacs had set themselves on fire.
As for me, I have my privacy.
It's mine I might have killed for.
I have my solitude,
the face of the beloved like a room locked in time,
and when I look back I am not there.
It's as if the lilacs martyred themselves,
the stories of their journey
embellished or misread
or lacking a true bard, a song associate,
something with starlight in it,
blue lilac starlight
and the sound of dipping oars.
I could sing it for them now,
make it up as I go along,
a detailed, useless lyric among shipwrecked green.
In my heart is the surprise of dusk come early
to ancient shapes like cairns,
the cold rising vast, these episodes
of silence like eternity.
Sing with me a siren song,
a ferryman song.
Sing for the dead lilacs.
How ever bad it was, she must have loved the dog, their walks by the river. How the man who brought her here or what he thought no longer mattered. Say she was spindrift. That's how it felt. Nothing engaged her. Days went by before she'd bathe. She could smell the animal like anguish in her hair and reveled in it. But for the dog she might have hanged herself, or filled her pockets full of stones instead of scraps for Cerberus. Two steps at a time she took the dark staircases. Outside the gates, among the beggar dead, she'd find him, kneel, unlock his chains. He leaned against her, as they walked, his sphinx's shoulders. What he knew of her of course, no one can say.
Call it a nearness like a room you make inside yourself for sorrow. Few are invited in. And she to him? Cerberus was welcome. In spring among the trillium she longed for him. Who could believe it was a pomegranate seed secured her soul? It was the dog that kept her going back.
My Life's Calling @ poets.org
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