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  • Five Poems
  • Jan Zwicky (bio)

Into the Dark

Was there a time I did not know you? The continents had other names and shapes, perhaps; the days before the feather was invented; before the sea was blue. Even then

the muscles of your shoulders could not lift the world. Though I think you tried: this scar, here; the long bruise you never talk about

that never fades. How beautiful you must have been then, bronze and flashing, for how beautiful you are: though now the birds are falling from the sky, the terrifying rain

has washed the cliff away. This back of yours, what it still bears. You are the one I’ve always walked towards, the one I’ve sensed as salt, as wind, as answer. Now, at last, you turn from me,

the soft whuff of your sleeping self, the white wisps of your hair like tufts of silk, like so much that I love: strewn, fragile, mortal, gleaming. [End Page 62]

Late Love

At the end, far into the afternoon, I’d walk the same trail, when I could, up to the ridge. For often then, but only at that time of day, there would be sun. The creeks still overflowing and the path

still slick, but what gushed among the rocks and deadfall was alight, the droplets flashing in the firs—gold, emerald, rose—their sharp glint echoed in the polished tangle of the overgrown salal.

And I saw that it was true, what you had taught me: beauty insists: it is connexion with the real. Even on the days I couldn’t tell my sorrow from the world’s: the sudden calm that was your touch, how I was trued inside your glance. The long and level shaft of light at day’s end, reaching from the planet’s edge beneath its lid of cloud. That clarity. Brief brightness on the earth.

Securing the House

What is it we are trying to achieve? That we will learn before we die to make our leaving orderly? Imagine

turning down the heat and walking out, not even locking up, imagine coming back weeks later. Ah,

the list of failures: unpaid bills, the missing jewellery, plant leaves browning on the window sills. And the dust. What of the dust? [End Page 63]

Meditation Looking West from the Berkeley Hills

Then, even the work dissolves— whatever it was. The great ships motionless in the enormous bay, gone the next time you look up.

And have you ever really wanted anything except that disappearing act, the open ocean, all horizon, just the other side of the bridge?

Its vastness makes it comprehensible, frames the restlessness, reduces it to stationary shimmer. Who wouldn’t want to let go. Who wouldn’t choose

those distances. They’re too big to get the mind around, too big even for the heart. Though we try each day, falling more and more silent.

It’s love, in the end, that we learn, learning also that it isn’t ours. Inexplicably, unsummoned, the world rises to fill its own emptiness. You feel it reaching through you—a voice, a hand,

a greenness not your own— and are buoyed up momentarily, amazed, before you find your feet again, or drown.


Desire, you who lift us each morning,     rough as the disc of the sun, you who bind us, who drag us half senseless     through the gift of our pain,

who leap without thought, who climb     with the climber who seizes the air in the fists of his lungs, drinking     the light with the lungs of his eyes, [End Page 64]

tell me: even the dead do not know,     even those who are ashes and sleeping now under the lake, their extravagance     earns them no answer.

You, who live high in the mountains,     where being itself empties down like the falls, sometimes in tumult, here glassy with weight, its pour     as though motionless: see

how the air, the melodious air,     fills the clearing: floating the grass and the palm-bright leaves. Their breathing     like sleep, and the year that completes itself in them.

If I go down on my knees, if I go down     in the burnt...