blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



The Scenery of Farewell (and Hello Again)

In the asylum's cadaver room,
            a janitor holds his lantern in wonder
over a barrel of breasts cut from the month's dead.
            It cannot be like this, we gasp.
It doesn't work this way.
            If it helps: they were sick, insane.
O.K., I know, I know, it doesn't help.
            For now, try to forget the janitor, the barrel,
what grows around us, around our hearts.

As in: sit up straight.
                            As in: the whole, the aggregate.

The heart gets bigger as it dies,
            and I can feel it growing sometimes:
blue heron swelling above the river's tremble,
            pushing itself away from all it knows.
But for the heart's voice, the body would disappear
            into itself, shrinking like the flooded field
of horsetail reeds on this riverbank.

The heart's growth, I'm sure, has nothing to do with love,
                            or the body, which could be the same at times.

The same as the asylum across the river and its reflection
            in the eyeglasses of the janitor,
each desperate version needing the other so deeply
            that even the janitor looks away from the buildings
and back towards the river,
            already ashamed at what the body can do,
the shape of love nestled down, pushed into the reeds.

Tumor: lamb's ear: gray button of nipple:
                            barrel of Saint Agnes: Agnes in the trees.

How can we speak?
            This is how we make something ours.
We stare at it until it becomes us and we walk away
            with a fist-sized lump in our pocket,
humming a sad tune in case someone passing by
            thinks we're happy. And we are.

What is removed drops horribly into a pail.
                            So we don't forget.

He wrapped it in a handkerchief. We wrapped it.
            Try not to blame the heart.
It is soft and is filled with us,
            the filaments of cherry blossom, silent cathode.
The heart exists to grow, and to take a breast from the barrel
            would mean treason of the body.
How can we speak of it?
This is the conversation we didn't want to have.
                            Of course it has to do with love.

The body, however, can only go so far until it wears down,
            until we're left with the janitor, faceless in his overalls,
his hands alive with touching a softness that is completely new
            and our hands beginning to memorize that softness.

Knowing this won't help much.
           We want a face, a guilty look over a shoulder.
The foxglove, the cornflower,

                            the sky from the river's long road.

We want a scene, a place that remains real,
            despite all this sad-getting-in-the-way-of.
The asylum, its awnings loose and ruined
            in the wind, the patients dressing the radiators
with soiled gowns. No, not that one.
            The heart can confuse. A field of reeds, then,
a sycamore, the janitor undressing on the riverbank.
            Yes, that will do. Stare at it.
Forget everything that grows around it.

If it's possible, and I'm not sure if it is.
                            Thorn grove of the blind: handsome lamb: harvest this day.

The heart knows nothing of this place,
            walking beyond the asylum's gates
and through the mist of poplar seeds,
            fluff and hilum, a heron's nest
in the tallest limbs,
            but it's not a question of knowing
the landscape and what hovers in it,
            of how it disappears into the horizon.
It's how a sycamore glowing in the twilight
            beside a barn becomes ours now
by simply being there, existing.

We no longer have to stare. It is ours as we swim
            in darkness to a lighted boat across the river,
the breast slipping from our pocket,
            from the handkerchief's blossom
and the crawfish gathering in the bottom's current
            are at first amazed with the white oval of flesh,
halo of the above, until it dissolves,

                            becomes nothing and the river remains.

The river is something we do not want to know.
            The difference between a heron flying low
in the distance over a marsh
            and a heron mangled by wild dogs at your feet:
it is the inner workings we avoid,
            that chart of wing and eye that reveals
what we've always feared,
and where we find ourselves
            won't be much of a surprise, coming up for air,
the faint metallic taste of silt,
                            of autumn in our mouths.

Let the heron remain blue in the evening air
            and widen over us.
Let the sycamore wait with our new white overalls
            hanging on the nails in its bark,
frozen in the half light of time, of farewells.

Let the river bring us to the boat
            as if we never entered it, our wrinkled hands
dry and strange, our lover lying naked
            in the bow under a lantern,
eager for the promised gift,
            the heart-shaped face of mutiny,

saying Hello, it's good to see you again.  

return to top