DON’T KNOW WHOSE SCHOOL IT IS
Don’t know whose school it is, but three days a month
for the last few years it’s been trying to teach me
not to care about the things I’ve cherished most in life.
One of the sunset attitudes of old age? Maybe. Though
the jury’s out for lack of circumstantial evidence.
Even apocalypse disengages, but I see a glorious sunset
in the manes of the old lions driven out to walk alone like wisemen
who don’t want to go through all that ferocity again.
The sorrows ripen like bitter, green days into mellower dusks
vivid with swallows. The earth has been at things a long time.
Like a shoemaker that knows her craft. Like a midwife
and an undertaker on the same nightward, listening
to people die in their dreams like train whistles passing through.
The dead come and go here in this small town as
unceremoniously most of the time as they do anywhere else.
You’re friends or enemies with someone for forty years
and suddenly, one day, they just disappear, and you’re given
a few details and facts as to why, and everyone acts contrite
and steps back from the grave because they’re afraid,
prayers, testimonials and floral wreathes laid,
and you realize what a trivial gesture life is compared
to the immense forevers we occupy when we run out of time.
People hang breezy curtains over a black hole
and live on the other side of them peeking out their windows
as if they were looking through a glass darkly
at the solar coronas and haloes of a total eclipse,
trying to make light of how eyeless it is out.
Even the Neanderthals threw cornflowers
like the paint rags of blue skies in the graves of their children.
The dead stare straight up and the living mourn for themselves.
Life goes on as everyone swears it must as if
we were being whipped in some kind of Oregon land rush
to lay a claim to an idyllic cemetery of good bottom land
down by the river, or atop a hill, with a beautiful view
for the pioneer kids who died of scarlet fever
to watch the waterbirds returning to the flooded marsh below
as if there were hope for them yet. Pythagorean
transmigrations of souls in the bodies of birds
or the hearses of Canada geese that carry the Ojibway dead
south and west, once the bones in their medicine huts are dust,
aviaries of angels singing them to their rest.
Raleigh in the Tower the night before his death.
We live in jest, but we die in earnest. Though that strikes me
as more of a trope than a truth, at best, a good guess
it’s just as easy to go along with for the sake of the rhyme
as it is to contest the conclusion until you get there,
keeping in mind Emily Dickinson heard a fly buzz when she died.
Ever listen to an old man trying to be clever about his death?
How odiously underdeveloped it seems. I think animals
are more honest when the hawk falls and the rabbit screams.
Grey hair on the mountain and you’re stilling going
through a sea change of the Burgess Shale as if
you’re never going to grow out of yourself into something new.
Is personality retained like the Conservation of Data Principle
even in a black hole? Once here, though we always had to be,
are we indelible? The mindstreams of flooded pens
that can’t be washed out of our pockets even by
the great night sea of awareness that’s swimming toward us now?
Roman short swords of the gladiolas are sprouting
in the heritage cemetery like green scissors or the beaks
of insatiable baby birds beseeching their mother.
Fifty thousand thoughts a day, not counting
the infinite elaboration of incommensurable emotions.
I can’t look at a grave without thinking of the Library of Alexandria.
Skull bulbs. Do you believe there’s a connection?
Uneasy the sleep of the man who goes to bed at night
thinking he’s a success. Life walks us to our graves
and every step of the way we’ve been crossing thresholds
that are neither exits nor entrances in or out of here.
What a strange dream to believe it might be possible
to be fossilized by your own biosphere. Life doesn’t
let you linger in the doorway for very long before
it slams the coffin lid in your face for not stepping in
when you’re asked, for fear of tracking starmud into the house
as you did at the beginning, as you will at the end.
And this is the brave part. Either learn to drown
like a sea star in the efoliant oceans of the rose
or get ready to be lowered down into the ground
like a lifeboat that doesn’t float. Even as far as China
if you’re out seeking knowledge of spiritual states
or the Beagle rounding the coast of Tierra del Fuego.
Holy ghosts and Hox genes, mass, gravity, space, time,
light, matter, black and white, annihilant energies
quantumly entangled in each other’s creative lives
in the Vas Hermeticum of the alchemical earth
breeding regal quatternios of golden life
out of the ore of base metal, effluvial waterlilies
out of their own putrefaction. Conceptually neat
and numerically comforting, but emotionally unsatisfying
in its mystic details. The green dragon has mercurial eyes
that shine with a peculiar lustre all their own.
The most brilliant error a human can make
is to mistake themselves for an individual
they always wanted to meet. We die on familiar terms
with the strangers we’ve faithfully been to ourselves.
A mirage of fish pleading for the waters of life
from a housewell in a desert of stars when we’ve been
the real thing all along, though we keep seeking it
as if the inestimable gift were only of value
if and whenever we found it on our own. The Milky Way
smears a silver snail track across the starmap of the long way home.
Compassion compels the softer alloys of our souls
to humanize the oceanic abyss of consciousness that surrounds it
with habitable metaphors rooted in tangible sorrows and joys.
Even the earth must sometimes stop to wonder
if the dead ever miss it, and marvel at a flight of sea birds.