The Unity and the Nothing


Surrounded as I am on all sides
by the density of cities, mute mountains,
the somber pageant of disappearing forests
and the void of what is called a life,
I am surprised by my temptation
to ask why certain winds are always followed
by a silence that is chilling to the heart,
and why the bells at noon call me back
to the anchor of flesh and bone.
So much rushes past me: calendars,
streets that break off like recurring dreams,
days encapsulated in train compartments,
shadows wet with dew, windows bursting with flowers,
and moons framed in the eyes of white clouds.

After so many storms it’s hard to understand
why my skin can’t decide what it means
to have rain on my face, or why I can’t create
the scent of wet blossoms in the air around me;
after so much pain, it surprises me that the body
still resists my efforts to stand outside it.
I know that memory adds to memory,
and that the stone angel that protects
the cathedral porch feels the rain
in the same way it felt the sculptor’s chisel,
and that the olive, thirsting for salt,
finally realizes it destiny dressed in black.

After believing totally in myself
and not believing in myself at all,
after the chaos of possession
and the ritual of trading identify for ash,
I can add no more clarity to your understanding
of who I am, except to say
that there is something definite,
something that stands apart but is me,
like the smell and heaviness of a storm
or the burn and indiscriminate
generosity of penicillin.

I know that I have burdened everyone
with reports from the inside of being a man,
with semblances fugitive as winter light,
and images heavy as swimmers exhausted
by the river’s inexhaustible flow.
I know rain when I see it adding
to the mass of ponds already overflowing,
mist when it devours green hills
as if it were the white ghost of a glacier.
I know where to find bottles of virgin oils,
bitter barks, roots that taste of the earth,
leaves that coat the tongue with yellow,
red mushrooms poisonous enough to kill a man,
and light green moss feeding on dead trees.
I know beliefs as eyeless as dungeons,
hands that are only sometimes owned,
feet that have nowhere to go, headstrong winds,
music imprisoned in violins,
and photographs that leave cracks
in the blue arteries of time.
I know the inconsequence of being born
and the greatness of being human.