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St. George and the Dragon
But I now hate
This solar boy
Whom I have been.
This solar knight
All over the world.
And the dragon? He
Is the great spirit
The alchemists knew of.
He is Joseph, sent down
To the well. Grendel,
What we have forgotten,
Without whom is nothing.
A sculpture made by Bernt
in 1489 for Stockholm Cathedral
WHEN WILLIAM STAFFORD DIED
Well, water goes down the Montana gullies.
“I’ll just go around this rock and think
About it later.” That’s what you said.
When death came, you said, “I’ll go there.”
There’s no sign you’ll come back. Sometimes
My father sat up in the coffin and was alive again.
But I think you were born before my father,
And the feet they made in your time were lighter.
One dusk you were gone. Sometimes a fallen tree
Holds onto a rock, if the current is strong.
I won’t say my father did that, but I won’t
Say he didn’t either. I was watching you both.
If all a man does is to watch from the shore,
Then he doesn’t have to worry about the current.
But if affection has put us into the stream,
Then we have to agree to where the water goes.
GRATITUDE TO OLD TEACHERS
When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?
Water that once could take no human weight—
We were students then—holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.
THE DARK EGG
A man bends over the gunwales,
Gazes into the sea
Hour after hour, sees
A lion rising upward.
If he looks to the sky, he sees
A dark egg perfectly
Visible in the Crow’s
When the Terrible Nurse
Took Vincentine by the
Waist, and threw her
Into the ocean, a whale
Poured her into
His copious throat,
And there she lived
Without husband or children.
What does it matter,
Suffering or not! Bad
Parents, or good
Parents, luck or none—
Let us agree to climb
The trunk of the Crow’s tree,
And steal the Black
Egg from his nest!
DRINKING THE WATER
When have we had enough?
When we can turn our head,
Say no to the dog-headed,
Furry-nosed, anusEyed god of duty,
Give payback to God.
Friends, remember no one
Can see his own ears.
Mirabai, night after night
Let herself down castle
Walls on saris to visit
Her low-born teacher.
When she washed his old
Feet and drank the water,
Any idiot would know
She did not care.
Glimpsing the grave ahead
The body leaps up,
Cries, “What if death
Wins, what if it all ends!”
Let it end—let the sand
And the ocean part,
Let it be, let
Heaven and earth go their ways.
THOUGHTS IN THE CABIN
Why do I suddenly feel free of panic?
Here a summer afternoon, windBlown lake, a cabin of strong logs.
I can live and die with no more
Fame; I’d like ground to walk on,
A few books, occasionally a storm.
I know stories I can tell, and I may
Or may not. There is more
To learn: the wind and the screen door.
The granary of images, the Norwegian
Lore, the power of Schmad Razum,
Good or evil, success or failure.
Expect something else from me—
Maybe silence—and don’t rule out
WHY WE DON’T DIE
In late September many voices
Tell you you will die.
That leaf says it. That coolness.
All of them are right.
Our many souls—what
Can they do about it?
Nothing. They’re already
Part of the invisible.
Our souls have been
Longing to go home
Anyway. “It’s late,” they say.
“Lock the door, let’s go.”
The body doesn’t agree. It says,
“We buried a little iron
Ball under that tree.
Let’s go get it.”
EARLY MORNING IN YOUR ROOM
It’s morning. The brown scoops of coffee, the wasplike
Coffee grinder, the neighbors still asleep.
The gray light as you pour gleaming water—
It seems you’ve traveled years to get here.
Finally you deserve a house. If not deserve
It, have it; no one can get you out. Misery
Had its way, poverty, no money at least.
Or maybe it was confusion. But that’s over.
Now you have a room. Those lighthearted books:
The Anatomy of Melancholy, Kafka’s Letter
To His Father, are all here. You can dance
With only one leg, and see the snowflake falling
With only one eye. Even the blind man
Can see. That’s what they say. If you had
A sad childhood, so what? When Robert Burton
Said he was melancholy, he meant he was home.
CALLING YOUR FATHER
There was a boy who never got enough.
You know what I mean. Something
In him longed to find the big
Mother, and he leaped into the sea.
It took a while, but a whale
Agreed to swallow him.
He knew it was wrong, but once
Past the baleen, it was too late.
It’s OK. There’s a curved library
Inside, and those high
Ladders. People take requests.
It’s like the British Museum.
But one has to build a fire.
Maybe it was the romance
Novels he burned. Smoke curls
Up the gorge. She coughs.
And that’s it. The boy swims to shore;
It’s a fishing town in Alaska.
He finds a telephone booth,
And calls his father. “Let’s talk.”