Poem in Search of an Ending
BY SAM TAYLOR
Night again. Stars again.
My boots crunch in the snow.
The dark of the moon turns
to light inside my body.
I’ve walked up and down
these additions and subtractions
this arithmetic of silence,
staring into the cleft of each word:
Boot? My? Snow?
Turning around to catch myself:
finding no one.
All year, or maybe two,
I’ve been stationed here, alone,
snowed-in, no phone, no
electricity. Last week, a man brought groceries
in a sled, by snowmobile,
and I’ve not seen another soul
for months. A bobcat, yes,
a beaver, a bull elk,
startled, running through the woods, stopped short
and froze before me, studying
my face. If I say now the aspen
in the darkness are like the chalky ribs
of my own chest, will you also know I mean
the darkness and the snow
rapture me like bandages,
swaddle in my walking
each charred hour of my life,
but not of my life only,
each match-tip cooled, yet glowing;
the aspen, ribbed and watching, knowing.
The owl lows again—one of 609
success stories in these woods tonight.
If we accept Darwin, then all creation
is like the typing of a chimpanzee
eventually composing each of Shakespeare’s plays,
the millions of lesser works
perishing in the fire
of a hawk’s beak. I am another.
My ancestors go back a billion years,
every one of them scrappy and frisky,
every single generation, reproducing,
saying: Here is a story told by my father
from his father, from his father—
a repetitive chant, a poem
of prepositional vastness,
from and begottens like grass.
And he came into her. And he knew her.
And he came into her. And he knew her.
And, and, and. What did he know? I am ashamed
there was no story told by my mothers
and the story told by my distant fathers
was lost, burned one body at a time.
All that was left was the story of a girl,
who crossed the ocean alone, twelve years old,
sailing wordlessly out of another land’s light
in a plain blue dress I must now invent.
If Darwin had been a Jew, he might have said
my DNA is a torah of flame, unraveling
forward and back, according to the commandment.
If I were a Jew, I would add
my DNA was a lone shofar crossing the sea
so that now I can answer: Here I am.
Here I am, a bit of a Jew, a bit African,
a bit American, native and non—
Chromosomes: they give us those nice
bright colors, they give us those greens
of summer. They make you think
all the world’s a sunny day. Oh yeah.
My great-grandmother crossed the Atlantic
alone in a dress never photographed,
haloed, on the prow and in the hold
bending to tie her shoe on the staircase,
as the glances of strange men landed
and departed from the buttons of her dress
like sea birds, speaking a language
she did not understand. For years after
she must have received and returned
letters, fluencies from home. Her passage
purchased months before for an older sister
who fell in love and decided to stay,
as did another sister, just a week before.
All of them died. An old story
told by my father from his father,
from his father’s silence, from his father’s silence.
Whitewash and hush of ash.
(Here I am.)
Still, the monkeys go on: typing and fucking,
attempting to make love at four o’clock
and again at ten, trying to forgive,
or off, their uncle, the murderous king.
If it’s not your uncle, it’s your father
or your brother one noted. Another asked:
What will you do with your one wild
and precious life? I am another.
Another chimp, but not another Jew.
Because my story was burned, I was saved
the trouble of renouncing it. Because it burned,
I inherited every story, found my name
everywhere. The story of flame—eyes, ears
tongue said the Buddha—is everywhere.
All across the chimp-pecked papers. So, clearly,
I’m an Arab and a black man and a bitch.
If I were merely Jew, I would never have been born.
I’d be clearly dead. Yet, here I am, Lord.
By this proof too, I am no Duwamish chief,
though I know each fir across this path.
And the story whispered leaf to leaf
across the hills of elders I have learned
to hear, and hear, and then repeat: a story
told by no one from no one to no one.
The owl—who may be a bit of a Jew
with his five notes for all eternity—lows again:
Who who who, who who?
I hear the call and answer: Here I am.
Here I am, but where is this?
Where now? Who now? When now? Wondrous
litany of my namesake. Say I.
New Mexico, San Juans, very near the Blood of Christ.
The place, like me, bears its made-up names
writings on transparent air
I’d just as soon erase.
Earth, America, United States.
A stolen land as every land has been.
I speak the tongue of time and place
where sorrow is mapped secretly
along the underside of each syllable stitched.
Blessed and cursed with a white face,
face that raped my sister and the earth,
given a free pass, plus Cain’s disgrace.
I have no home to return to and no people.
But, every night I crawl back
to my ancestor, sweet father fire,
who caged in iron can also be a friend.
I watch the crackle of aspen and spruce
diminish to the hush of ash.
By morning, wake to falling snow.
The elk entered my dreams late,
but they are there now, beside the frozen river
in the valley painted with snow
a herd of slow, unhurried apparitions
a moving cloud of sepia,
so fully present that it’s barely there.
So that time lives inside me backwards—
first highways, stadiums, men with guns
in helicopters, bleached blondes on couches;
then finally: forests, rivers, elk.
Some nights now I dream of grasses
recording unscythed signatures of wind
for hours, no fades or cuts,
no thoughts, no characters or men,
just breath, minutely nerved;
another night, a reel of undulating firs.
There is a heart in love with all this beauty
that never sleeps or dies, but hides, or has
so long—its eyes staring from a dark, silent cave:
The horses thundered, and the women screamed.
So many hours here I’ve lain alone
on a full moon forest floor of snow
among thick trunks of aspen centuries aglow,
sponges of listening radiating back,
miles for no one and for days to keep,
and thought filled with only breath
I could die here and be happy.
Eye cloud dye hair in bee death.
I could let the world dissolve
I could accept the blessed owl
as my last rite and passage, I could
bury the bloodied hatchet
of time, in the snow-globed woods
of no one’s unborn, unscented mind.
But, I kept walking. I walked out of the hills.
A decade’s passed. And now I still
am walking, but in market stalls
through sound and fury
of the cutting edge, the foundry
of the new, with all its buzz-sawed news,
the conflagration of the everfed.
I’ve left those mountain woods
like every other place behind. Just like
my people, I can’t stop moving.
Though no one’s chasing now
except my shadow, and my shadow’s shadow.
(Miami, Austin, Charlottesville, Wichita.
Siracusa, Budapest, Krakow, Chufut-Kale, Curaçao.)
I might still be a pure-bred Jew.
Everything scratches me, yet I cut gem and glass.
I must be the seed in the wind too,
carrying from and begottens like grass,
prepositions dug up from a mass grave,
yet I keep walking, walking past.
The elk have left my dreams behind,
they hover in some steep ravine
of untainted, rocky, coniferous time.
After such eternal wandering,
I can’t imagine home
except as a place to die.
But, the poem goes on, the typing too.
What is a man? A chimp? A Jew?
I believe in Christ. I believe in you.
Dear reader. I believe in every story
rung with thorns, tolled in glory.
But this butchered morass and shredded caul—
Why ash thou forsaken all?
Who will free us from thistory?
Every generation scrappy and frisky.
I’ve survived beyond all rhyme or reason.
But now I want this poem to end,
and sow no further savior-son
or mortal. No one to blast the shofar.
No one to give an answer.
No where, no who, no when.
No here, no I, no am.
(Just as it has always been)
But if such shining darkness were to be
if every light that trembled were to be
and if then we snuffed out darkness and
the firmament, displaced the locale even of
and gave no quarter hour to endure
nor let any tongueless choir breathe out
so ageless nightless night of no one nowhere
and if then a crack of rumor splintered a cold
of veinless dislodged naught that somewhere somehow
toward being, as we in all our who-less likehow likewise
this newsless news and knew somewhere somehow a single
of water floated on a lily pad emerald through the
even if it was lightless yearless years away who would really
cross any distance of unbeing with three wise men in
a heart a head a soul, to see to say to know, that this indeed was
Shofar: an ancient musical instrument made from a ram’s horn that is blown on the Jewish New Year and other special occasions to symbolize the call of God. “Here I Am” or “I am ready, my Lord”—“Heinini”—is said throughout the Old Testament in response to God’s call.