24 May 2009

Brenda Hillman

[from Brenda Hillman's Loose Sugar, Wesleyan, 1997]

Active Magic

You want to know where you are again?
Back in the middle of the interrupted everything
third side of the double album,
the start of the night shift
as eternity's waitress;
it's dusk, many years after the war,
you've crossed the same wild fields as before;
they've started selling uniforms of the new dead soldiers,
gone back to putting peace signs on t-shirts--;
you're stepping lightly in the dream
you can afford, the magic that was
and always must have been for you--

A dusk ago,--Remember? don't you?
Remember? Look. You had
an old soul. Killdeer
landed in the fields out there,
landed in their sounds,
in what's already happening,
dee, d-dee,
near your dormitory room,
you stretched once like an oak tree,
many times like a laurel;
the ones who would be drafted
came into your room

and you had an old soul.
You had started the same soul
five times, you were good at it;
the moon watched you one of those times
peering in at you
before you had lain down, peered in
behind the loaded cypress;
the moon horizoned herself,
you told her your sexual secrets,
loved what she could not help
being farther then--

The ones who would be drafted
came into the room (it's still possible,
the never happening); you thought
you'd been sent to earch to rescue them,
said, leave them alone, they already have tenses;
they draped blue workshirts over chairs--;
the moon was doing her best imitation,
old waitress, tilting herself like a tray,
said to the war, leave them alone,
they have what they want,
they don't need a future
when they have a soul . . . And why

shouldn't they have. (Headlights
shattered them. Loud
white damage of oncoming cars.)
You thought you'd been sent to earth
to help them not to fight--
when they rained with the rain,
when they clouded,
they were the little bit almost,
a little bit Sacramento, in love
with the magic of the active ground,
and you rode north or south with them,
on the backs of Triumphs, in the vans--

You afraid? Not really.
You afraid? Not really no.     OK OK
if you get afraid just tell me--
till you stopped in the middle of orchards
with little hard crosses, in love
with the magic of the active ground;
why, every seed moved!
Shook and shook.
Even the necklacey Woolworth's ones
the spiders loved--and why
shouldn't they have. Night
was coming on--

it was dusk
between the stages of the war. You
would save them. Dusk lifted you
with 2 fingers like a field mouse
and set you down 2 hawks from here
where you had done the other game,
pawn to queen four, the being
active till you loved
the mind and body of their world,
and lay in the low thin dormitory
boats of those beds of theirs,
their noisy hands all over you--;

you know how mercury shakes?
You know how mercury shivers
like tomorrow when you break
the end off the thermometer?
You see your own face in the silver.
Active magic. You could
become like that.
They gave you a body
before they left, made love to you
so easily it felt like spending money;
after the marching and the shouting
they left the voices in your flesh . . .

Some of them got free. Some left. Some died.
One fought the war in you.
When they rained with the rain,
when they clouded, in eaches
and whens, the water streaming
from their bodies as they left,
when their faces lay,
when your mouth lay, when their
mouths lay down in the it
with you . . . You were home
from that time, and why
shouldn't you have been?

Imperialism failed. Such
startled years for the world.
Medium countries swelling,
little countries bleeding, big
countries turning into little countries
as they have since the start of time.
You stared out at the coast--
radio flowers of sound from Los Angeles,
boats dragging accidents
that hadn't happened . . . A gull flies
through two thirds of the shadow
of another gull . . .

You can't keep another person,
you know that. You had
to give them up--couldn't save them;
You lean left in the hut
and right in the magic. It's years
since you have missed them,
missed them most of all
while you were with them.
You broke free and spilled out
all the unreflected light they left
like the moon who has already
healed her nothing--

wasn't she triumphant
in her slim smile,
like one stripe peeled off a lighthouse;
they had added to your shadow
where you were,
you had become a little bit them
and were proud of the reflection,
proud of the crossing,
could expect to be recognized
where the day was undoing the day
and let the magic spread--

                                               L.S.--Berkeley     1969-1994

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