Is there autumn there, is there leaf smoke, is the air
blued and mapled, oaked and appled and wined,
is that tang, that ache for who knows?
gone from your sweaters and hair?
Are there trees even, do they break out
in uncontrollable cold fires,
do they shatter in long, unreal downstreamings,
is October the same without them, is our sadness
so river-and-wind swift, and so free, is it still
our sharpest seeing, if we have not learned from them
how to be taken apart, how to be blown away?
Are clouds the same, are they still our clouds
if leaves have never seethed against them
on a tempestuous night, are they wild, is the moon the same
if it has never wildly sailed through wild clouds,
is there a Hunter’s Moon, a Blood Moon tinged
with the rust and incandescence of the leaves,
is there a moon at all, a hanging stone,
a white astonishment, the exile’s breath on a pane?
There is sun, I am sure—has it grown more dangerous,
has its shine through thin ozone whited out your eyes,
does it drive dunes through your forests, has it warmed
the seas to exactly body temperature?
What is it like to have won and won and won,
no mile without its grid of roads,
no block unwired, no handswidth without wireless,
when every breeze has been rebreathed
each current steered, each cliff a mirror?
Is there no wild desire, no wild with all regret
because no animals are wild, because the hills
are leveled and the valleys raised
because there is no clear and endless sky?
And what has endangered my imagination
that imagines you pale and bodiless and scanned,
not a shadow left in your floodlit brain,
your sleep hard in coming, dreams shallow and bright?
Why do I see you in a white room floating
among machines and drips and feeds
as if you were my dead, who went before me
on white boats launched into the future,
as if you were me, when I am tired,
as I am tired now, tired of the expertise
that says there is nothing new,
no thoughts or feelings not already words,
no words I have not said again and again,
thinking how long this trip has been, so near its end
that I will never again put down new roots,
change jobs, raise children, fall in love.
I can lighten my suitcase now, discarding my ticket,
since there is no return, the map of the city
I’ll never get back to, the little blue phrase book
for the language I’ll never speak again, the sweater,
the half-read novel, the comb, the end of this thought....
I know you will never hear the squeak of a mail box,
church bells (already quaint here), a van
graveling around a turn, a CD (surely gone).
I won’t ask (couldn't endure to know) are there birds there
still building the dawn. I know you can’t hear
the wind I’m hearing though there will be winds, the song
that’s blowing me away, though there will be song
after song. And you can’t hear this, though you, like me,
will lose what seems like everything and go on, cry
against your weariness with leaves and moon and wind,
or whatever passes then for moon and leaves and wind,
cry out against death and the dead world,
the dead world, and the death in you, until, like me,
you can stand again unborn, unused, unknown.
~ James Richardson
with thanks to the mark on the wall
photo by Christine de Grancy