I HAVE SEEN THE STIFF, BRITTLE LEAF
I have seen the stiff, brittle leaf that clung
to the tree of life throughout the unforgiving winter
like the flagging page of a gnostic gospel at half mast
drop off in the spring to make room for the green underneath.
Strange timing, as the stars give up the nightshift
for the graveyard, Virgo complementing Pisces
on a colour wheel, but maybe its poem
were meant for the snow as it lingers in the doorway
of a long farewell, a faithful flame of the burning bush
in the annals of fire, one last testament to love
as if a silver tongue in the moonlight couldn’t say as much
about the mystery of life as the sacred syllable
of one old woman dying in an albino hospital could
as if time itself would be uprooted by her death.
The saying and the said. The coming and going
of stars and waterbirds, the searching tendrils
of words from the heart that reach out to touch
the grieving world like grapevines reading Braille,
like the promise of chandeliers of new planets
growing like wine under the wings of their leaves.
Sometimes best just to sit at the edge of a death bed
like a Buddhist monk and say nothing about
where the ghosts of those we love go uncoiling
like the smoke of a candle as if the nightwatchman
of a passing wind had just blown all the stars out
as the exhausted pain in the eyes of the morning
comes on like the numb grey of a hollow dawn
too early in the spring for the shepherd moon of the heart
to wholly thaw, for the exile and the orphan to weep beside
the rivers of Babylon like glacial windowpanes
calving into a sea of awareness like an ice-age giving way.
The mind peeks like a skeleton through a keyhole
into an abyss into the green room of an oracle
that’s taken off her wig of snakes offstage to remember
in the black mirror of her ambivalent prophecy
that doesn’t lie about such things, who she is
under the deathmask of the moon that falls
like the crone phase of a blossom from the dead branch.
Unborn it’s been said. Unperishing. No more
waxing and waning of a pulse, no more sunsets
and nightfalls under her eyelids, no more dreams
of waking up in the morning exhilarated by starlings
nesting in the calderas and chimneys of the old crematoria
that made ashes of her passions, and sowed seeds
in the starfields of the wildflowers in the wake of the fire
that consumed her evergreens like heretics at the stake of themselves.
Are we awarded wings by the wind for enduring
a lifetime of the transitory like a rock in the river of time?
The deathshead of the Hell’s Angels patched like colours
to our back, or the flightfeathers of mourning doves
returning to the green bough of a black walnut tree,
our coffins smothered like underground guitar cases in the decals
and leaves of the places we’ve been to sing ouR hearts out
in one station of life to the next along the road
that always leads us like the voices of nightcreeks
through the woods to clearings we’ve never stood
and looked up at the stars as if we’d never seen them before.
Like faces in the audience waiting for us to open our mouths,
like willows tuning the strings of our battered guitars
as if they wanted to know what it was like to weep from the heart
like a human growing soft, blue shades of stargrass
on our graves, or the flowing jewels of the sad, sad, eyes
that kill us back into life with the beauty of the melancholy
we’ve conjured out of the ore of our scars, as if our tears
were water-gilding the treble clefs and kells at the beginning
of every lyric we sing, leafed in gold sprouting
from the sacred letters of the alphas and omegas
running in the rain like an alphabet of blood freaked with light
not even death can wash out of the sheets like the music of life
burning its face like a moondog into the shrouds of our cloud cover.
As if it were nothing for us to leave our fingerprints on the air
like our names written in our breath disappearing on cold windows
like the last word of the moon’s lost atmosphere leaving home,
like the pollen of auroral roses dancing in delight
for the midnight sun like the undulant veils of the wind
that reveal us to ourselves like the sea to a widow walk,
parting the constellations, spider webs and fishing nets
in the unfathomable depths of our eyes we’re entangled in
like Delphinus rising over the fossilized remains of the cedar trees
standing like burning ladders up to heaven in the rootfires of earth.
Our gravestones can’t say but a whisper of it all.
They don’t speak for what lies under them.
Their rumours of life don’t travel very far compared
to the myth of origin of the dandelions that grow
all around them, scattering their seeds like stars with parachutes,
letting the light fall gently like down from a nest
or Leo in the west just after sunset or east of the dawn
when the cock crows at midnight and the owl wakes at noon.