Creaking wood rubbing against wood
And fallen particles all around
The ancient smiling dragon wound
Bespeak futility neither bad nor good—
Leave questions blowing through the vernal air
Tempting a grasping mind to solve
And stay what must perforce revolve
Around a gash a god could make and bear.
Only draw in blood the mark of death
And fix your seal upon this failing flesh
Till ghostly wind inspire freshened breath
And all my cells and every sense unleash
To toll the knell for what has passed away
And sound a reveille to welcome day.
Jam for breakfast, an open honey pot
Among clattering, clanging calls to celebrate,
A mirth that reason cannot calibrate
Nor readily toss into the compost lot
I insistently affirm. I have been crucified,
No joke, and so am through with sighs
And worries and worshiping the stuff that dies
And from the fingers of the dead is often pried
Loose. I’ll get on with laughing, making
Others laugh, and in fairy dancing
Wrap a great old pole, and taking
Nothing, not even time for glancing
Back, commit myself to endless gladness,
For my God’s not happier by my sadness.
Far back in a packed closet
No light shines easily there
Is a box decorated, a simple box
That once held new shoes
And now is stuffed with two
Weeks’ worth of love notes, poems,
Scraps of original art, carefully
Torn pieces of construction paper,
Quotations of writers, sages, saints
Of one sort or another. She filled
It when our marriage was on its way
To death—a hope chest, given
Me to pore over and riffle through
During a week away. It is the last
Vestige, this box, of thirty years
Of trials, errors, joys, waiting,
Sins and salvation, of
Warmth and coldness,
Babies and laughter, and great
Nervousness at times. I
Know it’s there on the shelf
Where I put it last, unable
To let go of all it represents,
Of dreams and promises, vows
Even and even odd moments
When I knew the best of me
And the worst played together
Alloyed under the canopy of
Grace. I rarely look into it
When I reach for Christmas
Decorations and it falls down
Into a crack, or shift around
Some camping gear when comes
The season for it. Once or twice
I’ve raised the lid to see
If all’s still there, or whether
Some has decayed, some expired
As the law of entropy wields its will.
I muse sometimes on why it is
I cannot bear the thought
Of trashing mementos of a distant past,
Old pain growing sharper in some
Ways as unstretched muscles
Ache in early morning, wanting
Notice, dissatisfied until used again.
Sometimes it is not love or happiness
Or yet shame or guilt that clings
To us like beggar lice to breeches
In a wintry field—
But unspent tears of what we wished and prayed for
Shoved way down deep into a box
Rarely opened, emptied, shared,
A little casket full of grief
In a dark place away from everyday
Routines, unscheduled for healing.
Catharsis only comes to certain souls
Whose generally uncalculated wounds
Undressed and raw have throbbed and oozed till sounds
A dove-cry piercing stony hearts with holes
A size that sunlight joyfully admit.
O happy fault in human evolution
That wrongs collected see no dissolution
Till great the pain and more the cost of it
Exceeds relentless pressure to repress
What frightened egos do not will to face.
I name all my accumulated stress
And pitch it straight into the lap of grace.
And bows the soul unfettered and unbarred,
Purified and whole though wholly scarred.
If swamps are places teeming with life,
Then forests seem to me the land of death.
For three days I’ve meandered
Around woods here and there,
Impressed by all the dead I see—
Fallen logs, a floor of mealy leaves, rotten
Monuments woodpeckers have perforated
Left dying in the spring, emptied of all bugs.
In search of a place to spend a day in hermithood
A little grove I spied
Identified as Hiskitt Cemetery by a little sign.
Two or three old gravestones leaned about,
Decrepit after centuries of weathering,
Their tiny environs established
More or less by a border of decaying
Wood, itself a fitting fence for funeral plots.
I chose a tree, sturdy and inviting,
Against which leaned a smallish marker
To make a kind of headboard for my day
Thinking to keep company with and for
The nameless dead one sleeping next to me.
Just beyond the circle of twigs and branches
I arranged defining my cell
Two old gravestones bent towards
Each other, possibly the way those marked
Had done in life. Rain and wind
And no doubt snow and ice as well
Had erased the words off one
Beyond reading. The other tipped
Backward, though, in such a way
As to create a shelter for the lettering
While contributing its other side to
Mold and moss. I felt at home
Among these few long rotted corpses
Preceding even the oldest trees in sight.
Cemeteries are precincts of peace
And peace is what I came to get.
The dead no doubt could teach
Me a thing or two of peace, so
I asked them to let me in
On what they’d learned. Silence.
They seemed to say absolutely nothing,
As the dead are in the habit
Of doing. So I asked the tree
Supporting me what it
Had to tell me. The tree said, “Be.”
I’ve passed the day almost
Between “Be” and nothing.
And finally I think I’ve heard
The Word, perhaps the Peace too
I’d hoped for in early morning.
Be. Nothing. Or. Be. Silent.
It’s as much me to jot this down
As it is for a tree to scan the sky.
I am who I am, though
Who I am is still a project in the making.
As for nothing, nothing seems
Right. The great silence of the
Thirty-four-year-old wife who died
In June and her now
Nameless neighbor in the grave
Is a clear message on my way to living—
Nothing is the telos toward which my life is moving
And perfect nothingness will be the proving
True of all my gifts and giving—
On Saturday of the first weekend in May
Many years ago, a gang of college boys
And their dates struck out with noise
Of blaring radios and horns to pay
A visit to a swimming hole. Their fun
On unrolled blankets in a field
Delighted some, and others’ hearts were healed
When arms enwrapped them in the midday sun.
I was among their number, and for once
Began to feel accepted as a brother,
A rare experience for one reason or another,
Not being favored by my father’s other sons.
Tied to an oak above a deep place in the river
A rope invited swinging out and falling
Into the water. Splash produced a shiver
Of either thrill or chill, maybe calling
Adolescents to experience a learning:
Letting go is the soul of all discerning.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2015.