Download document


I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,


Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Flare 6

I mention them now,

I will not mention them again.

It is not lack of love

nor lack of sorrow.

But the iron thing they carried, I will not carry.

I give them--one, two, three, four--the kiss of courtesy,

of sweet thanks,

of anger, of good luck in the deep earth.

May they sleep well. May they soften.

But I will not give them the kiss of complicity.

I will not give them the responsibility for my life.

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

"Mend my life!"

each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do—

determined to save

the only life you could save.

The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac

I know, you never intended to be in this world.

But you’re in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.

There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.

Bless the eyes and the listening ears.

Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.

Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.

Or not.

I am speaking from the fortunate platform

of many years,

none of which, I think, I ever wasted.

Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going?

Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,

and remind you of Keats,

so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,

he had a lifetime.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?

Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -

An armful of white blossoms,

A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned

into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,

Biting the air with its black beak?

Did you hear it, fluting and whistling

A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall

Knifing down the black ledges?

And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -

A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet

Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?

And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?

And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?

And have you changed your life?



Something came up

out of the dark.

It wasn’t anything I had ever seen before.

It wasn’t an animal

or a flower,

unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,

a head the size of a cat

but muddy and without ears.

I don’t know what God is.

I don’t know what death is.

But I believe they have between them

some fervent and necessary arrangement.


Somebody skulking in the yard

stumbles against a stone, it stutters

across the dark boards of the night

and we know. We know

he’s there. We kiss

anyway. This

is not a pleasant story.

And time loops like the woodbine

up into the branches

of new seasons, and two towns away

a man who can no longer bear his life

takes it, alone, in the dark woods.

The police know

And we know—since no one tramples again

the grass outside our window–

he is our lonely brother,

our audience,

our vine-wrapped spirit of the forest who

grinned all night.

Now you are dead too, and I, no longer young,

know what a kiss is worth. Time

has made his pitch, the slow

speech that goes on and on

reasonable and bloodless. Yet over

the bed of each of us moonlight

throws down her long hair until

one must have something.

Anything. This

or that, or something else:

the dark wound

of watching.


Listen, whatever it is you try

to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you

like the dreams of your body,

its spirit

longing to fly while the dead-white bones

toss their dark mane and hurry

back into the fields of glittering fire

where everything,

even the great whale,

throbs with song.

A Meeting

She steps into the dark swamp

where the long wait ends.

The secret slippery package

drops to the weeds.

She leans her long neck and tongues it

between breaths slack with exhaustion

and after a while it rises and becomes a creature

like her, but much smaller.

So now there are two. And they walk together

like a dream under the trees.

In early June, at the edge of a field

thick with pink and yellow flowers

I meet them.

I can only stare.

She is the most beautiful woman

I have ever seen.

Her child leaps among the flowers,

the blue of the sky falls over me

like silk, the flowers burn, and I want

to live my life all over again, to begin again,

to be utterly