TWO YEARS SINCE YOUR FATHER TOLD ME
for Patrick Ennis
note: Willow is Patrick’s daughter, a two year old girl who has undergone
two heart transplant operations and recently
as a result of the second transplant contracted cancer.
Two years since your father told me
you had opened your eyes
and your name was Willow.
Good name. Willow. Wise. A muse.
A fountain and a wellspring
lucid with beautiful sorrows
you bring like secrets of water
from your life before
you were embodied in this one.
Do you remember
washing your hair in the stars
when you lingered by the shore
of your own mindstream
like the Swan in the Milky Way?
Two years since your father told me
you had given birth to him
who called to tell me he was a father
as I listened over the cellphone
to the fireflies and lightning in his voice
trying the fact on like different sizes of light.
Your father is angry and dark
and dresses in black
because he’s got a great heart
that’s radically eclipsed by injustice.
And he’s an original artist
who’s just discovered you
like a new colour
that sheds light upon light
when the sun shines at midnight.
In the vast dark brutally impersonal expanses of space
alone and within
he looks up at the stars
he once shot like heroin
and hangs on to you like a candle
realizing all their blazing
is just another kind of blindness
compared to the light you shed.
And all he had to do
from the very beginning
was see as far as the next human.
And since you lit him up like a star
above a magus with a bass guitar
he’s stopped booking one-night stands
in extra-terrestrial mangers.
He sings punk lullabies to you.
Your mother remains an enigma to me
though I have imagined many times
how she must feel
like the heavy blood-bells
of the poppies
between a gypsy wedding
and a Calvinist funeral
when she stands over you
and watches you sleep
if you can overcome death
all by yourself
deep in the watershed
of your dangerous beginnings.
Right from the start
you needed a new heart
and praise be to science
for compassionate machines
you got one
and lived like a robot
until they took one
from the life-giving dead
and fit it inside of you like a locket
with someone else’s picture in it.
And later they will give you another
when you’ve grown
and forever your blood
will be a red ribbon on a gift
from someone who sleeps
deep inside you
like a good fairy
dreaming under a stone
that she spreads her wings like dawn
from horizon to horizon
in every breath of you
you take for both
to live on past the morning.
And when you die
you will die in each other’s arms
like two crescents of the same moon
that can’t tell its beginnings from its ends
or who was the stranger
and who was the friend.
I haven’t kept in touch with the Buddha
but I’m going to the place
you’re coming from
as we pass each other like bridges
looking for the other side of things
as if there weren’t much of a difference.
Life isn’t our first innocence
and death won’t be our last.
And two years on earth
isn’t time enough to adumbrate
the original wisdom that belongs to all of us
however we lose our minds in the way of the world
looking for what can no more be lost
than light can be lost in space.
We may be many blossoms on your tree Willow
but we all wear the same face
and we all feel the same way
just as music can’t tell the difference
between the joy it shares with agony
or a requiem for the dead
that celebrates the living
from an epithalamion to the sun
that carries its orchard across the threshold
like cosmic seeds in tiny coffins
as if life were the only secret
death couldn’t keep to itself.
And stronger than the tree.
That’s why you’ve made it through more
than most strong men could endure.
Every heartbeat has been a throw of the dice
that would terrify Caesar like a Rubicon
too wide to cross
but I can see the chalk on the sidewalk
and it isn’t the outline of a corpse
in a murdered mirror
but you playing hopscotch
with daisies on your socks
as you bend down on one wobbly leg
to pick up the new heart you threw ahead of you
before you jump to the next
like the square of the number one.
Frog jumps in.
Basho wrote that.
And when he buried his seven year old son:
You may have been a dewdrop
in this dewdrop of a world
but even so even so . . . .
And you will come to understand in time
like water in autumn
the thousands of beautiful ways
we have learned to cry here on earth
like lonely birdsong
for things we know nothing about.
The bitter apple of knowledge
ripens into poetry
like an old man
at his daughter’s wedding.
And the serpent looks on with a grin.
But you’re too young to have learned
how to fear your own freedom yet
like a bad bet against circumstances
no one controls.
The trolls haven’t gathered under your bridge
to exact the tolls
they demand of your parents
like parking lot fees at the hospital
when they go to see
after each surgery
if God slipped a loveletter
under their door this time
or an eviction notice
that kicks the house of life out of them.
Your father works hard
and your mother is Bethlehem.
And Herod’s doing a body count
of all the future assassins he’s overthrown
like the first born of the aboreal cribs
that give birth to birds and babies
and shamans in the treetops.
And when the wind blows
down will come baby
cradle and all
but you’ve already fallen from the tree
more than once
to crawl back up into the nest
of a determined heart
that insists on growing wings.
Fly, Willow, Fly.
Let your hair down in the wind
that runs its fingers through it like music
that catches God’s attention quicker than prayer
and makes a more lasting impression.
And even though your father tells me now
the last heart they gave you
has bruised your blood with cancer
and you must fight for your life again
live, Willow, live
to count the rings around your heartwood
like the number of times
you were engaged to spring
before you eloped with the summer
like pale-faced blossoms on their way to Mexico.
Live among the things of the world
you can touch and see
and hear and taste and smell
and cast strange thoughts over
like a spell of fireflies in a wishing well
where the sad magicians dwell
who don’t believe
in the power of their magic
to transform the toad of the world
back into a prince who isn’t bitter
or pull waterlilies like doves
out of the sleeve of a swamp.
You’re the dark queen of dynastic dragons.
with your little life
just as it is now
like the small breath
the tiny flame
of a dragon queen
keeping death at bay somehow
like a cosmic fire death can’t blow out.
How strong you must be
to have suffered so much
against the odds
of a body loaded in death’s favour
and what a prodigy of bravery
you must have been in another life
lingering in the shadows of this one
that even your parents
have learned courage from you.
And already you are more powerful
than any of us
without even trying.
You learn without learning
and wiser than those
who think of learning
as a kind of repentence
for their ignorance
imposed upon themselves
like the fear of really knowing
they call the beginning of wisdom
even at two
you’re the clear eye of the storm
that offers the battered birds
sanctuary and composure.
And you’re the dangerous peace
that your parents
are trying to make with the world
that threatens what they love the most.
So fight, Willow, fight
to keep the light alive in the lamp.
Don’t let the night steal the moon from your window.
Live to know how much space
there is in a human heart
for sorrow and happiness
and how we light our hearth-fires
over the bones of our dead
who rise whole and unbroken as bread
to sustain us in their absence.
Live to know how forgiving the rain is
and how trusting the flowers
and how everything here
has learned to live
like a replay of their passing away
as the only means they have of staying.
Bloom among us Child
like a message in a bottle from God
that he’s still waiting to be rescued
rise up from the depths of your abyss
like the leviathan of a volcanic island
and let the birds bring you seeds
and the tides
Learn monkey and tree and star and stone
and how to tell time
by the Big Dipper and the Canada geese
and their return
and the number of times
the undetectable cricket in the grass
fiddles with his legs like the hands of a clock
who’s learned to play the violin badly
and how the further you look out into space
from some isolated farmer’s field
on a night in the autumn
the less you feel alone
as you turn toward home.
Love, Willow, love
like a feather loves the wind
like the sea loves its weather
like a star loves the darkness it’s shining in
like a dream loves the bed of flesh it’s lying in
like the blood loves the heart
like a station on its way
and the mind loves the grape and the vine
it perceives in the eye of the wine
before the arising of signs
has anything to say about why.
Be sky, Willow, and moon,
be water and mountains
that weep like young streams
peaking on stars like clouds at night
that sweeten their sorrows in the valleys
like pregnant bells of light
Draw your knees up under you chin
as you did when you were an embryo
and sit on the stone of the world
like a habitable planet of your own
that’s less coffin than cocoon
and lost like a child
in the lucidity of wonder
share with the dragonflies and frogs
those long silent thoughts that go on forever
like sunsets and radio waves
about what we’re all doing here together
as if all we’ve ever had to belong to
were each other
as we all belong to you somehow
and that’s more than enough of an answer for now.