To You and For You

When you say you are afraid there is something else there, some figure
           by the window, or someone
                       coming nearer, a voice in another
                                   room that isn't
                       quite a voice, somehow the difference

between things and persons and the difference between persons and things,

                                      so given and irreducible,

becomes like the clouding of

the past
            and the present at
                        the moment when you want to turn
             toward the future

and find yourself leaden
            with hesitation.

                                    I do not know where the dead are, or if they are. It is as easy
                                    to say they are with us as to say they are irrevocably gone.

The film you saw, where the boy lives in the midst
           of an after-life,
                       and thinks it is this world, and cannot see
                                  all the forces that have gathered

                                  against him, is now in your memory and the memory of others -

                                             and nowhere else.

He was a boy who never lived, but you are alive

and your desire to live can overwhelm
                       whatever compels you to forget.

                                              You can risk some harm, run up close
                                               to the brink,
                                               and still you won't know what it is you want to know.

We cannot look at the sun, and so we look at pictures.

 

I have seen the soul go out,
                                               like a breath,
and fill the room
                       before it leaves.

 

                                  And that was the end of it; there was no second end.

 

You ask if they have some intent toward us.

                       Do they think of us as we think of them? Is it fury
                                   that drives them,
                                               or conscience, or regret?

           I cannot give you a good explanation, I cannot explain
                                       what good is;

my hope is you will feel it
as a kind of ease.

I've known those who are busy with love, very busy,
and ever vigilant,

those who never take their eyes away, never fall
           aslant.

And they, too, are alive,

                      but they have devoted themselves to fear.

                      And their fear,
                                 a second end, is like
                                             a form of death.

You understand these are questions you are asking of yourself.

There is no outside
            setting them against you.

Your mind made these thoughts
                    and your mind
will hold you from them.

 

 

Lost Rules of Usage

period
a tollbooth         a jammed F sharp
footprints leading onto rock

question
a noble brow above the missing lips

comma
red willow leaf
            suspended in the water
an eyelash gone astray on a cheek

colon
adhesive tape mending
            the bridge of your sunglasses

semi-colon
a knot and a stain in the plywood
some people can't make up their minds

dash
might as well die trying

exclamation
the slim clown leaping over the ball
a strained expectation leading onto nothing

quotation
one week we slept like spoons in a drawer
            the next week, the same, but in the other direction

parentheses
the condemned man dreams of his pardon
what I think of when I do not think of you

 

 

Vigil

Midnight much worry
in a little room--
strike a match and time
is burning toward you.

 


Susan Stewart teaches poetry and aesthetics at the University of Pennsylvania. These poems are from her forthcoming book,Columbarium, to appear with the University of Chicago Press in Autumn 2003. She is also the author of three other books of poems and numerous works of literary and art criticism, including the recent Poetry and the Fate of the Senses.