Three Valentines to the Wide World
The child disturbs
our view. Tow-head bent, she
stands on one leg and folds up the
other. She is listening
to the sound of her fingernail on a scab on
If I were her mother I would think right now of the
that ridiculous arrangement of bones and bumps must go
and that big ear too, till they learn what to do and hear.
People don't perch like something seen in a zoo
or in tropical
sections of Florida. They'll have to buy her
a cheap violin if she
wants to make scraping noises.
She is eight years old. What in the
world could she wear
that would cover her hinges and disproportions?
Her face is
pointed and blank, the brows as light as the
"Mother, is love God's hobby?" At eight you don't
look up from your scab when you ask it. A kid's squeak,
that a fit instrument for such a question?
Eight times the seasons
turned and cold snow tricked
the earth to death, and still she
Her friend has a mean Dad, a milkman always kicks
at the dog, but by some childish hocus-pocus
she blinks them
away. She counts ten and sucks in her cheeks
and the globe moves
under the green thumb of an Amateur,
the morning yelp, the crying at
recess are gone.
In the freeness of time He gardens, and to His
old stems entrust new leaves all winter long.
is hard work, and the uncaring thought is hard;
but loving is easy,
love is that lovely play
that makes us and keeps us? No one answers
you. Such absurd
charity of the imagination has shamed us, Emily.
I remember now. Legs shoved you up, you couldn't tell
next tooth would fall out or grow in, or what
your own nose would
look like next year. Anything was possible.
Then it slowed down, and
you had to keep what you got.
When this child's body stretches to
the grace of her notion,
and she's tamed and curled, may she be free
enough to bring
mind and heart to that serious recreation
anything is still possible--or almost anything.
never enjoyed those roadside overlooks from which
you can see the
mountains of two states. The view keeps generating
a kind of pure,
that I can't find a use for. It drifts away
And it seems to me also that the truckdriver's waste
of the world
is sobering. When he rolls round it on a callus of
think how all those limping puppydogs, girls
rides under the hot sun, or under the white moon
how all those
couples kissing at the side of the road,
bad hills, cat eyes, and
horses asleep on their feet
must run together into a statement so
that it's tiresome. Nothing in particular holds still in
Perhaps he does learn that the planet can still support life,
though with some difficulty. Or even that there is injustice,
since he rolls round and round and may be able to feel
slight but measurable wobble of the earth on its axis.
But what I
find most useful is the poem. To find some spot
on the surface and
then bear down until the skin can't stand
the tension and breaks
under it, breaks under that half-demented
speech" the psychiatrists saw in Pound,
is a discreetness of
consumption that I value. Only the poem
is strong enough to make the
at least for me. Its view is simultaneous
discovery and reminiscence. It starts with the creature
stays there, assuming creation is worth the time
it takes, from the
first day down to the last line on the last page.
And I've never
seen anything like it for making you think
that to spend your life
on such old premises is a privilege.
Your yen two
wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not
When, in the middle of my life,
the earth stalks me
with sticks and stones, I fear its merciless
This morning a bird woke me with a four-note outcry,
cried out eighteen times. With the shades down, sleepy
as I was, I
recognized his agony.
It resembles ours. With one more heave, the
sends us a generous orb and lets us
see all sights lost when
we lie down finally.
And if, in the middle of her life, some
beauty falls on
a girl, who turns under its swarm to astonished
then, into that miraculous buzzing, stung
in the lips and
eyes without mercy, strangers may run.
An untended power--I pity her
It is late, late; haste! says the falling moon,
blinded they stand and smart till the fever's done
and blindly she
moves, wearing her furious weapon.
Beauty is merciless and
Who, turning this way and that, by day, by night,
still stands in the heart-felt storm of its benefit,
in vain for mercy, or cry, "Put out
the lovely eyes of the
world, whose rise and set
move us to death!" And never will
but against that rage slowly may learn to pit
and art, which are compassionate.
When summer came, we locked up our lives and fled
the woods in Maine, and pulled up over our heads
a comforter filled
with batts of piney dark,
tied with crickets' chirretings and the
of frogs; we hid in a sleep of strangeness from
A pleasant noise the unordered world makes wove
around us. Burrowed, we heard the scud of waves,
bending branch, or plop of a fish
on his heavy home; the little
beasts rummaged the brush.
We dimmed to silence, slipped from the
of wishes and will.
And then we had a three-week
who snored; he broke the wilderness of our rest.
all night long he sipped the succulent air,
that rhythm we shared
made visible to the ear
a rich refreshment of the blood. We fed in
unison with him.
A sound we dreamed and woke to, over the
of wind, not loud enough to scare off the roof
morning chipmunks. Under our skins
we heard, as after disease, the
tick of our time. Sleeping, he mentioned death
He went back home. The water flapped the
A thousand bugs drilled at the darkness. Over
the lake a
loon howled. Nothing spoke up for us,
salvagers always of what we
have always lost;
and we thought what the night needed was more of
he left us so partisan.
the gray, massed blunder of her face
light hung crudely and
crossed in a hurry. Asking very little,
eyes were patiently placed there.
Dress loved nothing and wandered
wherever possible, needing its own character.
the stories, we wise children
made pleasant pictures of her when
someone who knew told us it was never so.
wisely waited to see the hidden dancer,
the expected flare leaping
through that fog
of flesh, but no one ever did.
In a last
wisdom, conceived of a moment
love lit her like a star and the star
Interested friends said this had never
Death by Aesthetics
Here is the doctor, an
dressed as a virgin, coming to keep the tryst.
The patient was early; she is lovely; but yet
she is sick, his
instruments will agree on this.
Is this the place, she wonders,
and is he the one?
Yes, love is the healer, he will strip her bare,
and all his machinery of definition
tells her experience is
so she is reassured. The doctor approaches
bends to her heart. But she sees him sprout like a tree
metallic twigs on his fingers and blooms of chrome
at his eye and
ear for the sterile ceremony.
Oh tight and tighter his rubber
squeeze of her arm.
"Ahhh" she sighs at a chilly touch on
Up the tubes her breath comes crying, as over her,
back and breast, he moves his silver thumb.
hugs her. Soft the intemperate girl,
disordered. Willing she lies
while he unfolds
her disease, but a stem of glass protects his
from her heat, nor will he catch her cold.
peels her. Under the swaddling epiderm
her body is the same blue
bush. Beautiful canals
course like a postcard scene that's sent him
He counts the tiptup, tiptup of her dutiful
Pain hides like a sinner in her mesh of nerves.
her symptoms constellate! Quickly he warms
to his consummation,
while her fever flares
in its wick of vein, her wicked blood
He hands her a paper. "Goodbye. Live quietly,
make some new friends. I've seen these stubborn cases
time. My bill will arrive. Dear lady,
it's been a most enjoyable
She clings, but her fingers slip on his starchy
"Don't leave me! Learn me! If this is all, you've
my whole booty of meaning, where is my dearness?
against pore, the delicate hairs commingled,
with cells and
ligaments, tissue lapped on bone,
meet me, feel the way my body
and in my bounty of dews, fluxes and seasons,
in my wastes and smells
see self. Self in the secret stones I
to shape in my bladder. Out of a dream I fished
that feeds in my stomach's weedy slough.
This tender swelling's the
bud of my frosted wish.
Search out my mind's embroidery of scars.
My ichor runs to death so speedily,
spit up your text and taste
my living texture.
Sweat to hunt me with love, and burn with
But he is gone. "Don't touch me" was all he
"Separateness," says the paper. The world, we
will keep her though she's caught its throbbing senses,
bugs still swim in her breath, she's bright with its
A Relative and an Absolute
It has been cool
so far for December, but of course the cold
doesn't last long down
here. The Bible is being fulfilled so rapidly
that it looks like it
won't be long until Jesus will come in
the air, with a shout, and all
those who have accepted Jesus as
their own personal Saviour will be
caught up to meet him
and then that terrible war will be on earth.
The battle of
Armageddon. And all the unsaved people will have to go
through the great tribulation. Hope you are both well.
An aunt, my down-to-earth father's sibling, went to stay
in Texas, and had to continue by mail, still thanklessly,
spiritual supervision of the family.
Texas orchards are fruitful.
A card that would portray
this fact in green and orange, and even
more colorfully say
on its back that Doom is nearly upon us, came
at birthday, Easter and Christmas--and sometimes
between the three.
That the days passed, and the years, never
bothered her prophecy;
she restressed, renewed and remailed its
Most preaching was wrong, she felt, but
found for her kin on Sunday,
in one voice on one radio station, one
truth for all to obey.
Salvation being thus limited, it seemed to
there was something unpleasant about that calm tenacity
belief that so many others would suffer catastrophe
at any moment.
She seemed too smug a protegee.
Otherwise, I rather liked her.
Exchanging a recipe
or comparing winters with neighbors, she took
in a stuffy bungalow, among doilies of tatting and
She had married late, and enjoyed the chance to baby
a husband, to simmer the wholesome vegetables and see
vitamins squeezed from his fruit were drunk without delay.
she warned of cities and churches and germs, some modesty
decorum, when face to face with us, wouldn't let her convey
vision of Armageddon. But the postcards set it free.
hovering over the orange groves, she need only lay
her sewing aside,
and the grandeur and rhythm of its poetry
came down and poured in
her ear, her pencil moved eloquently.
She wrote it and wrote it.
She will be "caught up," set free from
Christ comes "with a shout in the air" and trumpeting angels
and "the terrible war will be on earth" on that
expecting all those years her extinction of body
attended by every creature, wrapped round in the tragedy
of the world, in its pandemonium and ecstasy.
When she died
last winter, several relatives wrote to say
a kidney stone "as
big as a peach pit" took her away.
Reading the letters, I
thought, first of all, of the irony,
then, that I myself, though
prepared to a certain degree,
will undoubtedly feel, when I lie
there, as lonesome in death as she
and just as surprised at its
trivial, domestic imagery.
A Kind of Music
consciousness begins to add diversity to its intensity,
its value is
no longer absolute and inexpressible. The felt variations
tone are attached to the observed movement of
its objects; in these
objects its values are embedded. A world
loaded with dramatic values
may thus arise in imagination;
terrible and delightful presences may
chase one another
across the void; life will be a kind of music made
by all the
senses together. Many animals probably have this kind of
the behavior of our puppy.
In the middle of the night he decides
that he wants to play,
runs off when he's called, when petted is
liable to pee,
cowers at a twig and barks at his shadow or a tree,
grins at intruders and bites us in the leg suddenly.
justification we humans have been able to see
applies to his
actions. While we go by the time of day,
or the rules, or the notion
of purpose or consistency,
he follows from moment to moment a
that keeps him both totally subject and totally
I'll have to admit, though, we've never been tempted to say
that he jumps up to greet us or puts his head on our knee
licks us or lies at our feet irrelevantly.
When it comes to loving,
we find ourselves forced to agree
all responses are reasons and no
reason is necessary.
Excerpted from Selected Poems by
Mona Van Duyn
Copyright 2002 by Mona Van Duyn. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf,
a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt
may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.