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Vol. 41 No. 17 · 12 September 2019
Poem

from ‘Unexhausted Time’

Emily Berry

‘Attempts at description are stupid,’ George Eliot says, yet one may encounter a fragment of unexhausted time. Who can name its transactions, the sense that fell through us of untouchable wind, unknown effort – one black mane?

Anne Carson

Funny you should mention a crow.
For years light … for years light eluded me
or stayed only a short time … something …
what was it … heavy in me …
a weight I couldn’t put down …
How will you let her go,
the girl with the high ponytail
and all the wishes, the flooded
tremendous wishes … ?
In the valley there was a crystal shop
and, they said, a lot of healers.
At the top of the hill we lay beneath
the eaves trembling, serpentine
in one hand, labradorite in the other.
Earth star, base root, third eye.
Why then are we not healed?
We do not know the way home.
We relived all those days, days we
couldn’t remember. We’re trapped
between two worlds, we said.
We’re trapped between two seasons.
How easily it gets flipped over
and we’re on our backs, alone forever,
staring at the smashed face of the moon.

You trod your lonely path and I trod mine,
and no one would drink from my tap but me,
this water which wouldn’t stop flowing.
Irrevocably, the born arrive, and they can’t
be put back, no, but who on earth would want
to put them back. I reached a door, passed
through it, reached another door, and so it
went on, there was nobody at home to greet me.
Once I saw someone I thought I knew.
What if just under this layer of life you could
find the old one, moving forward just the same,
and just above, what’s yet to come, would I
know myself if I met me now, coming the other
way back then. I couldn’t think of any reason.
When she had something painful to tell, it was usually
her way to introduce it among a number of disjointed
particulars, as if it were a medicine that would
get a milder flavour by mixing. I’ve been watching
a tall thin tree bending over and back
in the wind. Mama mia, how can anyone bend
so much without breaking? I said I had been lost
in a fantasy world in which I could travel freely.
She said the fantasy world was this one.
At the hour of my death I did not die,
but was born again in this life.

In this house the white walls display
their scars, which are the stories
moths tell when I crush them to death
with my fingertip. The stories I make
them tell. The lonely angle of a lamp
and the books piled up beside the bed …
What can I do. What can I do to change.
I won’t change. I won’t change till the day I die.
Downstairs a baby’s fury sounds eight,
nine times a day. Its parents break out into
the courtyard to weave the pram in circles
then go back inside. And the letterbox,
loose on its hinges, rattles all night
in the wind. How can I be less porous?
a friend wanted to know. Yes, how
can we keep our love from showing.
Should we keep our love from showing.
The intimacy is too much or it’s not enough
and the soul, or whatever’s in there,
yawns open for lack of reply.
Every life that touched mine so close
to the surface … your voice
coming out of my mouth …
I can’t sleep and I can’t eat and
one of those Mediterranean winds
with a special name blows through me.
Dawn awakening (no sunrise).
Birdsong at 5 a.m… .

The boxes were there. To be opened any time …
I thought, should I go down that road again?
No. On balance not. A voice worn
all along its seams, I ought to stop
listening. I ought to stop.
The mind’s self-deceptions inspire awe.
Its mountains. Must I walk there
alone, without a guide?
I do not know the things I know,
they are folded into my routines
imperceptibly. I do not see
what there is to be seen, the way
they tear the skin off an animal
and fit it to the human form.
Casualties of use. My index knuckle
aches from tapping out my litany.
Maybe I should have asked for more …
but I was sealed up, like a package
that must be delivered whole,
or not at all … I mean,
so much happens in my mind,
it’s almost enough … but not quite …
The last goodbye on a rotary telephone.
The pity I collected in my little cup.
When someone leaves you,
they flow out of you like milk,
and if you allow it, you can feed people …

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