The Death of the Swan, and Other Questions
BY ALICIA OSTRIKER
After many a summer, does the swan die? Yes, after many a summer, the swan does die. Left alone, would people hate each other and make war? My mother said they would not. —Lapel needs straightening. —Leave me alone, will you? —I will never leave you alone. Yesterday seems so far away, doesn’t it? Yes, and it will never return, not until time swallows her yellow tail. Old man river, do you trust him to flow forever? I do, deeply. Unlike the turnpike traffic on Friday night? The turnpike traffic cannot flow forever, ultimately it will rust. Nothing really touches you does it? I don’t have to answer that question. Everything frightens you? If you say that again, I’ll punch you in the mouth. Even your own son, running hopefully toward you? You have heard of the sins of the fathers. Do you not wish you knew how to leave me? I wish scrambled eggs and a side of bacon. —Nevertheless I move. —Can you move on? —On and off, I can. I can and I will. Bye. Is it true that we can only be hurt by those we love? No, it is not true. Not at all.
The Words When I Wrote Them
BY ALICIA OSTRIKER
When she was two, and made to hike with the rest of us,
our younger daughter toddled on her fat little legs
across the soft beach singing “I don’t know, I don’t know,
I don’t know, I don’t know” to the tune of “Twinkle, twinkle,
little star,” I still remember that, and she has spent
a lifetime learning what she does not know,
because she is a scientist, but all of us are seekers, in our way,
all of us still learning what to think of ourselves and the world.
When H. D. was an old lady like me,
a voice commanded her Write, write or die.
The words when I wrote them were oddly familiar
ocean-floor exoskeletal creatures, glossy, lumpy, waving tails
or waving tentacles. To me it was beautiful and good
down there, but I don’t know. I only collected them,
hoisted them from deep to daylight, nearly drowning
and here I am gasping, pulling off my mask, breathing.