BETWEEN A DEATH AND DEATH
In Memoriam: Sasha, Lady Young of Dartington
Moving between a death and death
on every side, at every moment,
at every footfall waiting our end,
miraculously failing us, not finding us,
though we are always there and visible –
what strange, unearthly mist is veiling us
from eye and hand that would transport us
into his home and eat us for his famine
that lasts from the beginning of the world
and never fails him nor is satiated.
Dear enemy, so modest in desire,
he wants nothing but all-of-us to sing
his great, perpetual counterpoint, to noise
all through the universe his triumph over us.
And, in this prosecution, come to birth
and love, we go our ways, evil or just
as the great battle wages us
against each other, men ever cruel
in their terror, too weak to do much else
than his fierce work, his awesome bidding.
So go we always between death and death
all haunting us when life alone should live
in love's great power and death have no dominion
on any kin. Thus am I singing –
came to death within this life
and never goes to any life thereafter.
NARRATIVE OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF SPIDER INTO CRAB
As we were choosing a watercolor among those
set out on a table for our inspection
I looked up at the ceiling, white on white,
seeing a spider move at right angles to us
toward a point where she would stand above
the apex of our heads. She was a thick-bodied,
thick-legged, muscular thing, a jumper
of a kind familiar in these parts
(much larger though than any seen before)
with a clown's dress: jet black, white-striped.
Others did not look up and never saw her.
She moved with nice deliberation, stopping
now and again in hesitation, almost as if
she were turning back – but the whole passage
revealed on ending its unerring purpose. Poised
overhead – small doubts perceptible
to the practiced eye: as if there were to be
or a slip sideways – and the fork
would translate into movement, a circle traced
whose obvious perfection would oppose, in all
its clarity, the doubt apparent in her.
The movements were not entirely spider-like
but rather, in their tentative, backing and
forwarding, scissoring motions a little similar
to scorpions – except I knew this creature far
neater than the scorpion and never treacherous.
And, sometimes, the sideways, almost glancing move
would, with the body's thickness, remind me of
the crab that I inherit. I saw for a moment,
in fantasy, a miniature black cancer move across
a beach rimmed with a turquoise sea,
taking me with her into those possessions
the sand under the sea seals daily in my country.
And, also, it was as if she moved like an eclipsed
shadow over the paintings on the sand-tinted table,
and seemed to turn most hesitant over the one
I finally selected. And all this time, the others,
(I worried specially about my daughter's nerves,
she being fearful of such beasts as much as I:
what if she should catch up the black progression
halted over her head!), did not look up, proceeded
with their choices as if those wild decisions
had never crossed their path or intersected with
their fate or interfered in any way whatever
with taste at judgement on the art surveyed.
At the point when, never in haste, the spider
stood to and rested, crouched a fraction,
almost as if for one of her famous jumps,
I felt election move inside my will, small doors
open and close in the brain, the eye acute,
secure in all its shutterings - and, there and then,
as if under an influence, made my final choice
among the paintings: which one would hold which wall
for the duration of my life. Above the ceiling,
topping the roof, uncounted miles into the sky, beyond
all boundaries attained by any human effort,
within another life (as it was said of us, moving to this
absolute desert of the mind: "as for the sky here,
you, it is another country – pure, perfumed,
tender to skins, delicious as a draught
of juices from the crop of all the fruits of summer")
there stood, I'm sure of it,
one vast, spread-eagled cancer with its claws awake,
radiating light, in talk with other beasts,
their huge extremities also emitting light,
watching on member populations here below -
and maybe other planets hidden in the abyss.
Meantime, the spider, on her longitude,
went forward after I had made my own
unmoved, unmoving last determination and from that time,
as we prepared to leave, taking our prize with us,
she used the interval to reach the eastern orbit,
passing the length of the remaining ceiling
to the other shore. There she hid awhile
across a beam as dark as she was: which annulled
her features altogether, except for the white stripes
that almost glowed on the surrounding dark. And,
finally, moving along the beam, she reached a door,
the back door to the house. By then it had been dark
for a few minutes and I hardly saw her moving out
as if drawn on by some invisible machine
pulling her back with all the other stars
into the sky's uttermost asylums.
Here it is she turns, companion to the day's
vast cancer of bright light dating my life.
I will tell you now: there are two skies, not one.
One is the sky of light, huge father to the day.
One is the shadow sky, mother of night.
The sun passes from one into the other on its rounds,
a man at times, at others, a woman. Perhaps you did not
know that. The sun is at his business in the sky,
works on his own behalf along a line of purpose
we know nothing of. At night, he passes
through us, or shall we say: she passes,
and we know all of it. Only sham not to.
What we ignore of what we know makes menacing shadow.
In truth she is our friend, we must not fear her.
Everything we do is locked into her loving aegis.
Whether she passes through our sight or leaves us blind
on that long shore under the sea, battered by tides,
the weather of our worlds, she's like a ship
who, though she's not been warned, has reached her anchorage.
SIEMPRE MAS INVISIBLE (TWO)
For Robin Blaser
"Here is another one!"
a night of passage,
might say "a bird of passage" –
but this would be owl or nighthawk.
Garden sleepless in the dark,
stalks bent, silently suffering
night winds of this late March.
On the road to endless darkness,
along this single night of passage:
you want to close your eyes and cannot;
the eyes close with no notion of themselves,
no knowledge of the light
beginning to steal into the room
like a thief of the day to be,
your eyes taken away from you
like all your worthless days
the moment you awaken.
And you have seen –
once, once alone, not custom –
such an astounding beauty in the night
has left you speechless and warm-hearted
toward all of creation;
desperately you try to befriend all things,
germane insistence of the heart,
for the sake of that beauty's eyes
to swear all enemies
are now become your bosom's treasure.
The light in the room has exploded,
a star has been brought to birth
without your knowledge – that fire on the curtain
(in front of your eyes so still in your head there)
is the sunrise of your most mortal day.
And you wake on that morning
with an atrocious sense of loss
as for the friend of your life
never met, never to be met, again
robbed of that exquisite sister in the dream,
soul of your soul.
You were still thinking of going to sleep,
you were still thinking of some benefit,
wretched trustee of every human loss,
when it was morning.
ASPENS THIS FALL
for Eliot Weinberger & Nina
Power of holy mind:
were it not that Nature obfuscates it with
"a temptation of images"...
High over mountain, where voice comes clear
out of the body cavities - voice granted you,
returned in your own voice, the solitude
of every soul who seeks after the kiss:
the aspens turned again,
that fortune ringing silent across sky,
gold waves on mountain ocean - but so silent,
without wave thunder, but with your voice
as if you were a storm, the bush were not in flames,
your voice the bush, heart-bush never consumed,
that mountain being now the ladder up to voice –
Gaia, this woman getting gold
among her thighs as if it were a god
and time so short for her receiving.
But, suddenly, – eternity;
there is the flash of gold
and the remembrance.
How there was a scene,
primal, though innocent, no act but landscape
of a sea you would have looked across... long, long
ago... and somehow recognized (because of cliffs,
boat, perhaps some bathers – no, not a bather,
no human thing – but nature as a whole)
and you were sitting with a person's absence
that half your nature gave you for yourself
so that your mother's son and yours were both as old
as angels smiling on their golden ocean:
Life lets itself be led
in this reverent place, land of cocagne
loaded with hidden goods – but all for you,
your dining, friends of yours to serve you
without regret. Then the other comes
in some rich conveyance, with retinue surrounded
– but in a cloud of peace
you'd never known him show in life, and with a smile
never seen him smile in life –
with great affection greets you as you meet him.
And then, both of you turning – to the third
who had arisen from her golden shower –
the three of you gazing at that landscape
which had become the binding book of heaven.
Great peace descending as it only does
in dreams and nowhere else. Last songs
by every great composer sung this moment
more lusciously than ever. Nothing
that you could paint and get away with
in a world of art. Disaster of perfection!
(But, suddenly, eternity)
there in the flash of gold: the now,
enriched by past and future disenchanted
(all opulent ambition). A flood beyond
full quantity of fire or water,
rushed down this mountainside –
huge ocean of compassion
swamping your heart faster than you could breathe –
the all-forgiving view that no-one
can help in any fashion being what they are,
or who they are. And the piece closes
as if the god were dying, breathing his
or her last guess over the magic mountain
and the high mercy of the sea beyond you.
Nathaniel Tarn 2002
Nathaniel Tarn is a poet, translator, critic, editor, one-time university
professor (Chicago, London, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Rutgers, Colorado,
Jilin PRC, New Mexico) and anthropologist (Highland Guatemala; Sociology
of Buddhist Institutions; Alaska; China, India, Japan, Himalayas).
He has published some 35 books & hundreds of articles in various
disciplines. The latest are Scandals in the House of Birds; The Architextures & Selected Poems 1950-2000. In the late Sixties
and early Seventies, he was a founding editor of Cape Editions and
the Cape-Goliard Press. He has lived in the U.S. since 1967 and, for
the past 17 years, north west of Santa Fe, New Mexico with a choice
collection of tarantulas, rattlers, coyotes and wee, wee birds.
Selected Poems – which is
reviewed elsewhere on the Stride
website – is easily available via Amazon; an earlier volume, Palanque, is still available from Shearsman.