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St. George and the Dragon

St. George and the Dragon

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But I now hate

This solar boy

Whom I have been.

This solar knight

Grows victorious

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

Notke

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.



204



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.



205



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

Stickly nest.

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!



206



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.



207



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

Misdirection, misinformation.



208



X



MORNING POEMS

1993—97



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.”



211



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.



212



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.”



213



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