Friday, September 25, 2015

Two Poems by Jane Kenyon






















Having It Out with Melancholy
 
If many remedies are prescribed for an illness,
         you may be certain that the illness has no cure.
                                   -A. P. Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard

           
1 FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad—even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours—the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.

2 BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.

3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

4 OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep's
frail wicker coracle.

5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors—those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.

6 IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life—in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .

7 PARDON

A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink-fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.

8 CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can't
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can't sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can't read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9 WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.


Reading Aloud to My Father

I chose the book haphazard
from the shelf, but with Nabokov’s first
sentence I knew it wasn’t the thing
to read to a dying man:
The cradle rocks above the abyss, it began,
and common sense tells us that our existence
is but a brief crack of light
between two eternities of darkness.


The words disturbed both of us immediately,
and I stopped. With music it was the same—
Chopin’s piano concerto—he asked me
to turn it off. He ceased eating, and drank
little, while the tumors briskly appropriated
what was left of him.

But to return to the cradle rocking. I think
Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss.
That’s why babies howl at birth,
and why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.


At the end they don’t want their hands
to be under the covers, and if you should put
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture
of solidarity, they’ll pull the hand free;
and you must honor that desire
and let them pull it free.


Jane Kenyon is the author of five books of poetry: From Room to Room, Alice James Books, 1978; The Boat of Quiet Hours, Graywolf Press, 1986; Let Evening Come, Graywolf Press, 1990; Constance, Graywolf Press, 1993; and Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1996 (published posthumously).

Her poems have been published in various periodicals such as Poetry, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harvard Magazine, Paris Review, New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, Nation, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post and many others. 


Jane Kenyon (May 23, 1947 - April 22, 1995)


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