Two Poems

Jorie Graham

Praying

(Attempt of 6 June ’03)

I wake and one of them is still there, still talking, sudden jolts of hand
as if to
slap open the
air, garbage waiting at the curb, myself a slave, still, yes, I check, a
slave, mist on the hedgerows, stubblefields between. A slave. Beyond,
the village still asleep. That I can say the word village. Thorns
disappearing now under the last of the blossoming.
God why do so many of your plants have thorns.
Yesterday, along the roads, looking up, but barely, as I passed,
people collecting something edible from the edges of the ditches.
Strangeness envelops me. I know I too am dying but I don’t say that
here. Why? Why does even the use of the question mark seem too
pronounced for the way it feels. Once an angel cried out.
Once ‘once’ had a long tail, time went backwards and also
forwards, and the crisp shadows of the roses on the wall
made all the sense I needed to live by. There were, also,
seasons. Yes I know, there still are seasons, but you also know
we’re not sure. Others are sure, they provide data, the experts
do what they wish with it and the rest is lies.
Oh but the thieves are beautifully presented, waving, getting on and off
their planes. Unlike my dream, they have all the time in
the world, waving as they descend the fore stairs, or the aft,
as no one is shooting at them. The cat we found in the hedgerow in the rain
is watching me do this. The cat has Aids. The vet says ‘unfortunately
very common now.’ It is also very smart and beautiful. We have no
name for it. It seems that many more people are being killed by us
than they are telling us. I try to imagine the war. Someone in it
who always takes his hat off the hook, however short the trip outside, who goes
out ‘now’
very suddenly, to see what the noise is, and then later someone else
seeing the hat. How the hat has become unbearable.
Still the voices do not go away. Every morning now I am putting these words down
in the place of other words. Over them. In order to cover them
up. The cat this morning, because something, as we were told to expect, is starting to
go wrong,
is scratching and scratching at the hard floor to cover up a trace
of what she has not done. I pick her up to calm her but she pulls away
and goes back to what looks, to my species, like shame, the work of the
ashamed. I feel there is nowhere to turn. I watch her and believe she is growing
blind, possibly, or an hysteria is beginning to set in. I feel there is nowhere
to turn. I have borrowed money. I have borrowed faith. I have borrowed
words, style, thoughts, obedience. I have borrowed the smile,
I have borrowed the still moonlit field, the hoarfrost glowing in it, borrowed
the phone, called the number listed, called the other number, also
borrowed one person’s name, then another’s, also gave one name to a newborn
person. I have tried to understand the messages. I have tried to take them
back. I do not know where back is. I have searched everywhere this I can
promise you. There is no excrement but she is trying to cover it
everywhere. Her claws make a horrible sound on the stone floor as she tries.
No no there is nothing there you have done nothing I say. It is some other
species. The compartment of species-distinction I’m in slides its small door
shut. There are people who need ammunition right now or it will be
too late.
There are people
whose names are being typed onto a paper right now. One is on his
hands and knees and cannot find his voice to say please, for which
he might be killed. There is the category of by mistake for just about
everything especially death. There are people who need a driver’s licence or they
shall not
stay in the country. There are people who if the rent is not paid this month
shall not stay in the country. There are people who if they take something
which their child needs, or does not need, which they shall not have the
money for
shall not stay in the country. A country: I beg You, it is not Your dawn yet
here, tell me
what that is. I cannot make out what borders are. What they express is not clear
to me. Why we needed to cut it up like this. No,
it is not clear. From the hedgerows outside some are still audible.
Every morning like this with the mists on them the wide
impassable hedgerows speaking. I turn the news on only to cover it. To cover
the cat’s claws scratching at the floor I have now cleaned again. To show her it is
clean. ‘Clean’ I say stroking and pointing. Above or below us it must be all right –
is it just in our
stratum? We have tried to cover it with volume, it is still space. We have
covered it with history, it is still a murder and a forgetting. The dead are still
mixed in with the living. Maybe by mistake. Whose? The battle lines
are setting in. Everyone is in his or her hole or should be. Wherever you have
fallen, stay. Distance is your friend, covet it. Even from God, I think, for
now. Your god might be the wrong one for the circumstances.
Make yourself a kind of silence, don’t say what you think.
If you decide I shall say what I please know you are putting
your loved ones at risk. Listen to the hinges, listen hard. If you care to know
what I think, I think they are robbing us blind and we want to stay
blind. Speechless too, even our loved ones will testify against us. And by
the way,
god of the absolute blind spot, unblinking,
throwing back the gates savagely to allow entry, waiting for each one of
your sons
to step out from the others, everything about him visible, his standing there
the only thing you cannot take from him, plus his silence, although you
are also making him unable to cry out – [what is it you are doing to his
voice] –
making him yours absolutely if you can – why, lord of the
human eye, tongue, hand – of lateness – of there being such a thing as
lateness – [in relation to what] – why is it we are supposed to love? On account of
its perfect
obedience, matter deserves to be loved, Weil says. Matter she says is
entirely passive and in consequence entirely obedient to God’s will. I am God’s
matter, says the voice from the just-greening eight-foot hedgerows. I was.
The only choice given to men, she says, is to desire obedience or not to
desire it. If a person does not desire it, he obeys nevertheless,
perpetually, inasmuch as he is a thing subject to mechanical necessity. If he does
desire it, he is still subject, but a new necessity is added, a
necessity belonging to supernatural things. It is nearing seven. When we have
the feeling,
she says, that we have disobeyed God, it simply means that for a time
we have ceased to desire obedience. I desire obedience. I do not have that
towards which to direct my desire. It is a beautiful moonlit night.
The young owl that sang out once might sing again.

Europe

(Omaha Beach 2003)

Walking I try to tell the plastics from the kelp –
green lettucing, wiry reds, soggy,
whitish, papery, brushing – all intermeshed – a tire track
crossing through, water still dripping downslope,
and bits of green – right here in front of me – puffing up as sun
releases them from their own weight and water is lifted
away.
A trailer tries to pull a boat upshore.
How is it that ‘representation’ became ‘ornamentation.’
Children as usual at work in the tidepools.
Made larger here by bits of mostly submerged landing-craft.
Now not submerged.
The tractor growing smaller as it aims towards the breakers.
Small piercing birds suddenly made audible
because of the full sound of the distant surf
now pulled across the whole – rip where
jet-skis cut and (without looking up) the single-engine
plane. What are you leaving, species of mine,
people, fuels, enemies, other – you, you there – what
for me to stand on, from which to shade my eyes and
peer. To shade and look out – long and slow – into
the ‘beautiful’ oncoming day. When was it you last
woke to that? Yes you. I’m going closer to the
tidepools and the kids to listen and to look. One boy, maybe eight,
moves cat-like, ankle-deep,
bent over, net in hand. Whatever he has
caught he places in a bright green tub. He calls
his brother urgently in Dutch (I think) they
change the plan. The bottom of the pool is deeper and they
move towards it. They do not see me on the other side.
They’re running out with buckets now, up shore, hands full.
I walk into the pool myself. Sun looks
as usual back up at me. Three
new kids are approaching now.
Green bucket has returned. He has a shovel now and
larger friend – also blond and very pale. They bend to work. Their work
makes ripples that now lap my way.
Huge kelp-pods floating from the bottom are avoided
but they sway. I barely make out numbers on
the landing-craft – barnacles, brightest of velvet greens, also a hinge,
a giant ring embedded in the deep concrete, which they
now find, and drop their buckets to climb on.
A mother calls. The bucket has been left to float. It cants
into the center of the pool where all the kelp-heads
stop. Boats, surf, cries, miles, pools, bars, war. No
container, friend. No basic building blocks ‘of
matter’. No constituent particles from which everything
is made. No made. No human eye. The rules?
Everything speeding towards ‘the observer’. Who is
that? The other who is me perceives
the tiny stream of particles, hazy,
the superimposition of states. Entanglement. Immediacy.
No time has passed from then. No now. A mother to my left
with high-pitched, lengthy reprimand. I do not speak
the tongue although I can hear rise and fall.
A ball – orange and white – is kicked my way. I
look up quickly, skip to kick it back. A small
boy running towards me startles-up, surprised. It makes him
fall. Why is he so afraid of me? Or isn’t he? Why can’t I
tell. Electrons hum. Photons attach
to my gaze now upon his face. Is it, his face,
a version of a possible outcome
only mathematics can explain to me?
What should I do to make him not afraid?
I watch the other children work the
ball – sand kicking up – a father in the game –
some disagreements as to where
the boundaries are.
What can I do to make him not afraid?
The electron lives in a literally different space.
It is called Hilbert’s space.
You can’t go there. It is not what we mean by
‘real’, but it is real. Not theoretical. Just made entirely of
prediction – but is real. A kind of box
made out of all of our predicted outcomes. Yet is real.
Someone goes on in it.
Don’t seek. It is not open to seeking.
A set of rules?
Have you radical doubt?
Is there enough left to doubt about?
What must I do to make him not afraid?