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
and the present at
the moment when you want to turn
toward the future
and find yourself leaden
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
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
a tollbooth a jammed F sharp
footprints leading onto rock
a noble brow above the missing lips
red willow leaf
suspended in the water
an eyelash gone astray on a cheek
adhesive tape mending
the bridge of your sunglasses
a knot and a stain in the plywood
some people can’t make up their minds
might as well die trying
the slim clown leaping over the ball
a strained expectation leading onto nothing
one week we slept like spoons in a drawer
the next week, the same, but in the other direction
the condemned man dreams of his pardon
what I think of when I do not think of you
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.