Susan Stewart

 

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.

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