Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ancestral Visitations

Florence on horse, Griffith Park, 1928
Girl and Horse, 1928

by Margaret Atwood

You are younger than I am, you are
Someone I never knew,
you stand under a tree,
your face half-shadowed,
Holding the horse by its bridle.

Why do you smile? Can’t you
See the apple blossoms falling around
You, snow, sun, snow,
listen, the tree dries
and is being burnt, the wind

Is bending your body,
your face ripples like water
Where did you go?

But no, you stand there
the same,
you can’t hear me,

forty years ago you were caught by light
And fixed in that secret place
where we live, where we believe
nothing can change, grow older.

(On the other side
of the picture, the instant
is over, the shadow
of the tree has moved. )

You wave,

then turn and ride
out of sight through the vanished
orchard, still smiling

(as though you do not notice)


Where do the dead go?

The dead that are not cosmetically renewed
and boxed, their faces familiar and serene.
Or brought to an essence, pale ashes in elegant canisters.

I ask for the other dead:

those ghosts that wander
unshriven among our sleep,
haunting the borderlands of our lives.

The dead dreams,
The failed loves.
The quests, undertaken with full courage
and paid for in blood
that never found a dragon, a Grail, a noble ordeal
and the Hero's sacred journey home.

Instead, the wrong fork was somehow taken, or the road
wandered aimlessly, finally narrowing
to a tangled gully
and the Hero was lost, in the gray and prosaic rain,
hungry, weary, to finally stop somewhere, anywhere
glad of bread, a fire, a little companionship.

Where is their graveyard?
Were they mourned?
Did we hold a wake,
bear flowers, eulogize their bright efforts
their brave hopes
and commemorate their loss with honor?

A poem?
An imperishable stone to mark their passing?

Did we give them back to the Earth
to nourish saplings yet to flower,
the unborn ones?
Or were they left to wander
in some unseen Bardo, unreleased, ungrieved.
Did we turn our backs on them unknowing,

            their voices calling, whispering impotently
            behind us
            shadowing our steps?

              Lauren Raine   1997

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands
somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him
as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go
far out into the world
toward that same church,

which he forgot.

Rainier Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

I see your  father's  gesture
(how is it possible, to remember him, after all these years?)
yet there it is renewed, a play of shadow and light
 flickering across your face.

You were a Milagro
that inhabited me
for a little while 
and then grew on without me.

What shall I call this door,
opening today between our lives?
Multitudes pass this way.  For that moment
I see them in your eyes,
then I pay the bill, finish coffee,
and descend into the subway, waving goodbye.

How can I tell you
that I am casting my love
like a daisy with petals partly plucked,
a firefall of dandelion seed
into the wind
into the world

as you must do as well?

Lauren Raine (1990)

Flora with Florence (1917)
old photos,
escaping a tin box:

stories with wings
 butterflies, or white moths
fluttering at the glass,
ephemeral, half-glimpsed stories
lighter than air, 
these unknown memories
an open window
Florence at 92


Gail said...

Thank you. I have a box of memories.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wow. These are powerful. I love your poem the best.