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Through a Glass Darkly


ISSUE:  Winter 1936

The quiver of the leaf is death; the curve Continued from the swallow’s wing rounds out The circle of our hope.
Autumn has bayed The summer to this utmost lair, autumn Is arched against its throat.
Slowly the earth Wheels outward from the darkened sun’s despair,
Blind to its beckoning, heeding no truce Propounded by the heart, more impotent.
Now death is piled among the corn rows, death’s
The plummet where the squirrel muffs its catch;
The errant-bounding acorn is a thumb
Telling our ribs: Breath, be not arrogant;
Breath, these your patterns, cast upon the air,
Shall find no far savannas, like the geese;
Breath, breath, if even mockingbirds must print
Their musical designs on nothingness,
Is there in you some pitch more permanent?
Go ask the mushroom’s blackened tongue, that was
The silver texture of a miracle.
The whirling plague of rain is on the land,
The mongols of the rain are up: gray rain Born only of mad autumn, sired by death,
Finds plunder in the meadows, scuffs its loot With muddy heels.
Now ants must build again Their toppled Babylons; lizards have claimed Dry sanctuaries, but the rain has heard The flurry in the wall.
The rain drives home Its rusted nails upon the terrapin’s Tough citadel.
November has a ram To batter it, a siege to take it: death.
November has carved upon its back the word We dread but stoop above.
Rise up, despair;
The droning medley troubling the blood is but A prelude to that final dissonance.
Heart,
I report: a gale has blown from dank Ravines of hell, and clouds have found their way To Tennessee, our sometime heaven.
Let the rain
Root out the bones of thickets, let the rain
Snap through the backbone of the rose,—and hope.
The lords of change come not in juggernauts,
But wind about the wilting of the stalk,
Slow thunder unappeased, but still unheard,
Convolved and ominous where willows sag.
The ripples break their coils; they cry a threat;
The rabbit, galvanized, sniffs at its doom,
A gray futility poised by the rock Grown eyeless with the lichen’s upward kiss.
Lean earth,
O whorish mother, am I pure? Barren madonna, am I then defiled?
The connective tendon has never snapped Or never was. November knows;
November Will not speak.
I ask, but cannot know.
Smiling with double emptiness of mirth I gauge the spider’s thread, spun irony.

Blown side wise, cawing triumph at the plow,
The crows take sustenance of barrenness.
Lean-stomached, wise, grown angular with need,—
Not merciless, but anciently approved,—
They bring to mice inquisitive of green The darkened swooping of necessity.
Here blood has written lightly on the grass An epilogue. Here flesh acknowledges Betrayal of an idle brotherhood.
The chill that rots the buried stone wells up,
Blue concentrate within the shrunken hands;
And scarlet haws, soft adders at our lips,
Submit the venom of black certainty: The white wrist and the pulsing of the throat Have deep coincidence with drifting fog.
I shall kneel down where hillocks knew the sun,
Still interrogative, forgetting now The floundering brown death within the brake,
The premonition whistled from the cedar,—
Demanding, of the heart, deliverance:
O  heart, then crying, heart too gullible,
Is this the end? Is this the story told?
I  must lean back, look up; the corridors
Of afternoon are drummed by weightless wings.
I must step softly, bide the frost, observe The beetles, polished symbols in the clay.
The ticking of the beetle is a thought Outwitting death . . .
O herons of the mind,
Wing high above this marsh of circumstance!
Remembering how softly spring once shook To leaf a miracle, remembering The midnight of a winter,—thinking still
How lips blossomed to spring, and frightened eyes
Took comfort of the planets, quaintly close,—
Shall I, initiate of miracle,
Deny a whiter change, a greener truth,
A resurrection to the dragon fly?
If there be maxim, it is this: that leaves Cling longer to the shuddering dark bough Than ever lips to lips.
The pummeling Sure progress of the mole gives yielding faith A manual to ponder. Though the rock Broods colder than the fallen leaf of love,
The ministrations of a patient hand Can blot the outer frost, white cruelty.
Surely some part of me has lain too long beneath The moldy sides of logs.
I say that some Elixir, truant from my blood, has joined Too many times the minnow’s muddy whirl.
I’ll whistle it back into the bone, the warm Home in the blood, the kennel of the ribs.
Under the sycamore’s gaunt arms I’ll loose The pigeons of a faith.
Now should I doubt That wings can find the green far cotes of spring,
November, lead the stubborn flesh to. light;
Give demons of the earth my name, lash me Malignantly with knouts of vines, thrust fire And fog under my tongue: I’ll doubt no more.
I do not know what foxes of the sun And ferrets of the wind conspire;
I know They’ll snuffle out the summer’s brood.
I know That locks turn, though of winter, and a key Lies buried in the fatherland of leaves.
Shall only larva? know?

The tottering
Frail leaves slant home, drawn down by threads of sleep.
Wind, let them dream;
November cannot sack The El Dorado of a memory.
Now flesh, grim protestant, confute the tall Inquisitor of autumn; harry the blood For long-forgotten answers that still wait,
More subtle than the thorn’s sharp querying.
Now lips, parry death’s sophistries, asking: What is black autumn but the carnival Of pell-mell hordes, lewd in the house of thought,
Should no arm bar the door?
There is a room Locked up from winter, and a seamless roof Disputing rain. A gable towers still Against the climbing winds, contending with The north and south: the self, the heritage,
The will-not-die of man.
Here in the eyes Is spring tougher than autumn ever tore,
A racing fire to gnaw the screens of death.
No smotherance of fog shall blind the hills Of fortitude.
I’ll find, light-footed there,
Some warm sufficient valley, some high trail To wander till the lasting spring be come;
For spring is not the first slight agony Of a twig too young to bear, nor yet the blue Down-rolling awning of the sky, the thresh Of water vortexed by the fish; but spring,
Unfading spring, is storage of the heart,
Where the rotted wheat of autumn on the floor Is trampled by a joyous husbandman.
O bitter ground long trodden,
O lost heart,
I’ll search the blackened mirror; for now we see Through a glass darkly, but then face to face November and that April of the soul.

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