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In Walking Toward the Sun, youthful lyricism has given way to plainness of speech-even spareness. These poems are honest and unflinching, always striking in their prosody. They will remind some readers of Yeats, for they convey nobility in the face of old age, infirmity, and disappointment. Weismiller sings powerfully about a world of loss, but he is never grim or despairing. The poet in old age remains hopeful, open to possibility, and always aware of beauty in the smallest places.
How much time has passed. The great root has spilled the wall. The children put on years and went to look for fruit. Against earth late flowers are pressed. The air is still and cold. Leaves tick with frost. In the old wood the paths of foreboding are choked with light. A fading shadow of bird-flight lifts from the grass. The brook runs its course. In the field brilliance has grown. The great tree will never yield. The wall is down.
Larger than what I am used to thinking of as life and uglier, it stomps up out of the lake (which is beautiful) trailing from its clamped jaws as from a half-packed valise, torn water-flowers. Seeing me, it narrows its small eyes, snorts gigantically, swings its antlers down, charges, then veers, and crashes off among the dark trees which are beautiful. My heart pounds. Mountains ring the scene.
And walking among high fields once in Vermont, I stopped, my heart pounding, when there rose close to me on heavy wings a bird bigger than birds are. It labored off through the shaking light to disappear among trees. I do not remember a cry.
Up from the open lakes, up from the gold fields they rise, the monsters. I could not have invented them. I think and think about the trees.
Where the water ran there is now nothing. Shadow of leaf and stone drown in that darkness; are equal shadow where the bright scattered sun fails at the water's surface, and the spell is not cast. On the reeded shores gray skeletons collapse to the still water, the bones of trees entangled; out farther, like broken pikes, the tops of dead pines totter and ruin in the unseen wind.
The odor is of patience.
Of sleep. This is a map of sleep. The spell not cast. An old man, an old house filled with rooms, most in darkness. Tomorrow the same.
The Tree in Front of the Old People's Home
(Washington, D.C./Atlanta, 1981)
The ribbons they tied on the small tree were for the children, who would not grow old. They hated being old, hated it, but this was different. They had started in winter tying the ribbons on, red, green, passersby added their contributions, by March the tree was a fist of color in a world still dark and cold.
Then spring came, the small fists of leaf clusters pushed out, burst, the birds were back, the tree blossomed, they could see the ribbons less and less. Nothing had been solved, but the whole world was yellow-green and blue and pink and white. They had longed for spring, they had not thought they cared what birds made nests of, but this was different. They had spent their lives thinking that only they could make signs, and that still seemed true, but now they felt cold, wondering what it would be like not to have to.
Tales Out of School
Jeremy could not fly. Stars hung in the air at night ice-bright and far up there.
Robert thought up a place where no one hurts or spoils; wooded. A quiet face. The blue was hills.
A shining hunting knife for Christmas: the edge would last. And no scream could be heard earth spun so fast.
But slowly others starve. Nobody knows why, or how it feels, to starve. Not close by.
I sit and write my book. Love with her antic train spellbound and silent crowd the windowpane.
I fly to see a friend. Earth's colors fade from air somewhere below the clouds. Down there. Down there.
posturing to wake lust in the mirror, wakes his own and returns, later, to the morning unreasonably sad. The meanness passes and day begins.
At school he finds his friend absent, a teacher he likes cross for some reason. Fires two thousand years old fail to illuminate history (Room 317; Miss Ganz). He travels, and returns. The day passes. On the way home a man looks at him like ice with eyes.
There is a note on the kitchen table, food in the refrigerator. For no special reason he wanders instead downtown, touching lampposts on corners, a girl's face drifting through his mind, McDonald's gold. The cold lights of cars pass, people pass and pass, he stops, voices from many places call "Return," and he has homework, but cannot go home.
It has become speech, the sound a quail's wings make when it takes flight from the grass somewhere near my feet. There is a rising chuckle, abrupt, mirthless, a dry scolding of the air, then silence, the direction of which I almost know.
The speech, the silence linger. They say not "Fare well" but "Where the plain secrets of my content lay, you came, caring nothing. If you had not come I should be there still."
After the rain, it is like morning again: a bird (withdrawn so long) speaks, cordially; another threads a tree with song.
The sky's descending gray torn, our eyes walk out and through, out through the world. Color lifts up its ranges.
But odors slow us; water touches with many hands; rose and rotted wood engross us in air.
And as at dawn, a thin bough, close, fences calmly a storm of light. Snail and earthworm long since set out on their journeys.
by the tall shadow that unfolds the stars.
South and southeast of the skyscraper trees, they settled for chapparal, manzanita, live oak. Small things moved back.
Above the desert, shoals of stars swam the arched night sea.
Joshua trees. Smoke trees. Later a few settlers would plant tamarisks, thin windbreaks. Across the mountains small, dusty towns rose, sycamores in the parks.
The towns are cities. Along the coastal highways windbreaks of eucalyptus ravel in the salt air. Somewhere a mile-long avenue of pepper trees leads nowhere, from the past. This air floats great branches like a sluggish sea.
The groves die: avocado, walnut, unpruned and unwatered citrus still sweet with stray clusters of blossom, bone-white, paradise forfeit. You have to decide what you want, and what you're willing to pay. The rich suburbs hold dominion over palm and pine in the same block. Elsewhere, steel, dry rivers, a murk of mountains, inventories of disturbed sand.
Against the steel-gray-gold last light of evening, palms burst like black fireworks, making a dry sound.
The stars have not moved. The trees cannot buy water. The small things that have watched have enough. The ocean has enough.
The beach was clean, washed clean. The tide was falling. And still the waves rolled in as though they were searching for something left behind, something they once had owned, that the land held now unprized in its possession. There were clouds. It was snowing moonlight. In the silence the dark curlews ran, engaged with the water intricately as it ranged the beach, and following swiftly as it curled back, pulled backward, failing.
I have seen unequal wars; I have seen dancing. But the curlews' shifting grace was the waves' confusion.
Suddenly I saw the intensity of the dark birds, the hunger, the danger, and the enormous ocean casting-.
Was this true? Is what can be said true? All my words like empty shells draining through the sand.
The mindless ocean still powerful on its thin verge.
The Water Gardens
The sun in its good time waked me. A world of water awaited, gray and gold in a cold wide half-circle of small liftings and collapsings, a restless dance down to the deep roots of the rocking garden planted out of sight.
The nameless particulars of the water called me. With no way to lose I swam out in my answering skin to a place sufficient where the light and the salt kissed me in two, and the two halves of the sweet world closed on my openness.
It was a peaceful dance time and the water taught me. Yielding a thousand small ways, I lay alive to everything, the vast fullness of emptiness, winning back enough of the lost gold of days before from the traveling sift of amber under water, and thinking nothing of the love of the light for surfaces, not seeing, nor concerned even to name anything deeper, anything settled: the dark, the suppressed garden of the dark.
Some night you will go to your door, and there you will smell an unknown fragrance sweeter than jasmine, frail as the scent of a thousand single flowers, but there will be no flowers, and it may be winter; a stubbed-down searchlight will play across the clouds, a salt mast creak, gulls follow, the dark water bring home distance.
It is the night. It was always the night.
At low tide you can walk a long way into the Atlantic without surrendering. The low waves break peacefully around your ankles, your knees, and farther out sweep unsteadily past. Finally, though, you lose your footing. A line of pelicans flies across as though this were their watch, and they do watch, but not you. You are in the water's keeping, but are not its concern. You must watch yourself. As in any world.
Salt reaches down your throat, your eyes burn. Seagulls cut silent arcs, or wheel, screeching like metal parts unoiled. You swim, tread water, sometimes scissor to turn away from the shore, or toward it. In the house the president had said we are seeking peace aggressively, which is how you have to do it. It is a little like sailing west to reach the East, and as everybody knows, that worked.
You swim and swim, and stay in the same place. On the horizon a fishing boat stays in the same place, like a house, then leaps a mile, but it is you who have turned. Though in your unsteady floating you misread sometimes, there is nothing out here that is not true. You must swim back to the world in which you belong, however hard it is to walk the last steps to shore through the low waves that break and pull back and seem to want to pull you back, though they want nothing.
A spoke of the sun spins and the eye cannot follow. I can come to no conclusion. The light turns round.
A bird lifts to the center of the sky, and blazes. I can come to no conclusion. Full day is over.
Neon lights the west. Neon lights the east. The dark has run down. I can come to no conclusion.
Inward all rot and unattended pain, the dinosaur stumbled to bed in ferns no gardener had named. Aeons of rain blur my window. My eye turns
away, to the stuffed chair, back to my bed, the table by my bed. A cut glass vase stands there jammed with ferns and spikes of red gladioli. The ferns are there for grace
I guess: Pteridophyta. I cough. I smoke too much. I shouldn't when I'm sick, but where's my lunch? That nurse is always off somewhere. Will I get lung cancer? Thick
as tears the rain falls, and I have tried to read my book, but what's between the lines? Some lists that Adam left me when he died. Out in the rock garden, Eve stands and whines.
An Early Conversation
The man spoke first. "This is His world. His sun. His garden trees: ours but His shade. His impossible full radiance He has for us fondly broken into the flowers' colors."
"Beautiful" she said. "I see a space there for the Bower. But what can I plant around it, or transplant, that will grow richly in that pure soil in this sun till, summers deep, the leaves have fallen?"
North of north, citizens were holding cold straps, riding. I do not finish journeys, so turned off that dream.
South of south, mountains of meringue. Egret feathers. And east and west, spices and all that.
Woke once more to the centrally located dream, smoking, with a TV aerial up my ass, all the comforts except home. Nomad of the one place, I pretend I see colors through windows. I did see a tree once. It shook me.
I'll take any heart they give me, though, that some mother is through using. Will they make any shit I cannot eat? I doubt it. Anything that can be refrigerated, I'm for. Later. I expect to be here a long time.
A Beached Whale
"Hospital officials say they go to great lengths to make sure a donor is dead. Before a heart is taken for a transplant, the donor must have had no brain waves for at least 24 hours, no reflexes, no breathing, no muscular activity and be certified dead by a team of doctors not connected with the operation.
"The heart is kept alive with a respirator, which forces air into the lungs and keeps blood flowing through the dead body." [From an article in the Washington Post of August 4, 1968.]
This is a different dark. The ocean is on a plate. I want to dance, said the live heart in the dead body.
I throw blood like a rainbird. What for? How long?
Later I might dream. Mountains the color of knives. Lichen. When can I dance? said the live heart in the dead body.
I want to hear something else. Love is slow to start, like a clock.
Ask me what I know. I have too much room. Where can I dance? said the live heart in the dead body.
She married, her heart so nearly blank you would have thought you could see yourself there as in a mirror, read there the one sentence you need not spell out; that is to us illegible.
You were not impatient enough. How many years would it take, and then how many to circle the earth blindfold, your faith in emptiness, until the Prince of Nowhere should summon you to walk one evening in the ballroom of a palace swaying with costumed ghosts, rented from an expensive past?
Your friend, the angry poet, is not here to learn, as you are; but language is gone, a sailing of gowns across endless stages, a swirling as of snowflakes, and the cold moon stares. Why did you do it? The question is of no importance, but what did you think it meant, when you fired blanks, when you fired into the snow?
Delay, delay. But no matter. All are dead now. The Prince writes no more letters.
She is yours.
Dialogue of the Dead
1. Time is on our side.
2. Nothing breaks our lines.
1. The wind rises, but there's nothing in it, nothing in the wind, falling, breakdown, or travel nowhere. We need not mount the gray-hided sea. When sparrows fall south from the sun, we least of all attend. Love hastens winter. The earth lies
2. Nothing breaks our lines.
1. still when it turns. All this we see with our wide gaze.
2. N ...
Excerpted from Walking Toward The Sun by Edward Weismiller Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|The Tree in Front of the Old People's Home||6|
|Tales Out of School||7|
|After the Rain||10|
|The Water Gardens||14|
|An Early Conversation||22|
|A Beached Whale||24|
|Dialogue of the Dead||27|
|A Field on Delos||28|
|Letter Found Blown Against a Fence||32|
|" - So Full of Sleep - "||33|
|Love That Twisted Vine||36|
|One-Sided Conversation with Henry||37|
|A Fairly Common Story||39|
|The Wrong Music||46|
|How Should I Think Long||49|
|Thought: Song; Speech; Silence||50|
|One-Sided Conversation # -||55|
|Song Under My Breath||56|
|Sitting Too High in the House||59|
|Like Animals, We Grow||60|
|This Spring: For Luverne||62|
|Because There Is Time||63|
|Walking Toward the Sun||64|