Last Stop
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LAST STOP Few are the moonlit nights that I've cared for: the alphabet of the stars—which you spell out as much as your fatigue at the day's end allows and from which you gather other meanings and other hopes— you can then read more clearly. Now that I sit here, idle, and think about it,* few are the moons that remain in my memory: islands, color of grieving Madonna, late in the waning or moonlight in northern cities sometimes casting over turbulent streets, rivers, and limbs of men a heavy torpor. Yet here last evening, in this our final port where we wait for the hour of our return home to dawn like an old debt: money that lay for years in a miser's safe, and at last the time for payment comes and you hear the coins falling onto the table; in this Etruscan village, behind the sea of Salerno behind the harbors of our return, on the edge of an autumn squall, the moon outstripped the clouds, and houses on the slope opposite became enamel: 158 Arnica silentia lunae.* This is a train of thought, a way to begin to speak of things you confess uneasily, at times when you can't hold back, to a friend who escaped secretly and who brings word from home and from the companions, and you hurry to open your heart before this exile forestalls you and alters him. We come from Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria; the little state of Kommagene, which flickered out like a small lamp, often comes to mind, and great cities that lived for thousands of years and then became pasture land for cattle, fields for sugar-cane and corn. We come from the sand of the desert, from the seas of Proteus, souls shriveled by public sins, each holding office like a bird in its cage. The rainy autumn in this gorge infects the wound of each of us or what you might term differently: nemesis, fate, or simply bad habits, fraud and deceit,* or even the selfish urge to reap reward from the blood of others. Man frays easily in wars; man is soft, a sheaf of grass, lips and fingers that hunger for a white breast 159 eyes that half-close in the radiance of day and feet that would run, no matter how tired, at the slightest call of profit. Man is soft and thirsty like grass, insatiable like grass, his nerves roots that spread; when the harvest comes he would rather have the scythes whistle in some other field; when the harvest comes some call out to exorcise the demon some become entangled in their riches, others deliver speeches. But what good are exorcisms, riches, speeches when the living are far away? Is man ever anything else? Isn't it this that confers life? A time for planting, a time for harvesting. "The same thing over and over again," you'll tell me, friend. But the thinking of a refugee, the thinking of a prisoner, the thinking of a person when he too has become a commodity— try to change it; you can't. Maybe he would have liked to stay king of the cannibals wasting strength that nobody buys, to promenade in fields of agapanthi* to hear the drums with bamboo overhead, as courtiers dance with prodigious masks. But the country they're chopping up and burning like a pine-tree—you see it 160 either in the dark train, without water, the windows broken, night after night or in the burning ship that according to the statistics is bound to sink— this has taken root in the mind and doesn't change this has planted images like those trees that cast their branches in virgin forests so that they take root in the earth and sprout again; they cast their branches that sprout again, striding mile after mile; our mind's a virgin forest of murdered friends. And if I talk to you in fables and parables it's because it's more gentle for you that way; and horror really can't be talked about because it's alive, because it's mute and goes on growing: memory-wounding pain drips by day drips in sleep.* To speak of heroes to speak of heroes: Michael who left the hospital with his wounds still open, maybe he was speaking of heroes—the night he dragged his foot through the darkened city— when he howled, groping over our...



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