In forgotten tin cans, may forgiveness gather.

creative illustration of a heart on a dark black background with yellow leaves branching towards it
Art by Kristina Closs

“Phase One”

-by Dilruba Ahmed

For leaving the fridge open
last night, I forgive you.
For conjuring white curtains
instead of living your life.

For the seedlings that wilt, now,
in tiny pots, I forgive you.
For saying no first
but yes as an afterthought.

I forgive you for hideous visions
after childbirth, brought on by loss
of sleep. And when the baby woke
repeatedly, for your silent rebuke

in the dark, “What’s your beef?”
I forgive your letting vines
overtake the garden. For fearing
your own propensity to love.

For losing, again, your bag
en route from San Francisco;
for the equally heedless drive back
on the caffeine-fueled return.

I forgive you for leaving
windows open in rain
and soaking library books
again. For putting forth

only revisions of yourself,
with punctuation worked over,
instead of the disordered truth,
I forgive you. For singing mostly

when the shower drowns
your voice. For so admiring
the drummer you failed to hear
the drum. In forgotten tin cans,

may forgiveness gather. Pooling
in gutters. Gushing from pipes.
A great steady rain of olives
from branches, relieved

of cruelty and petty meanness.
With it, a flurry of wings, thirteen
gray pigeons. Ointment reserved
for healers and prophets. I forgive you.

I forgive you. For feeling awkward
and nervous without reason.
For bearing Keats’s empty vessel
with such calm you worried

you had, perhaps, no moral
center at all. For treating your mother
with contempt when she deserved
compassion. I forgive you. I forgive

you. I forgive you. For growing
a capacity for love that is great
but matched only, perhaps,
by your loneliness. For being unable

to forgive yourself first so you
could then forgive others and
at last find a way to become
the love that you want in this world.

from Bring Now the Angels

Advertisement

A half-life can be deepend by the whole

The prolific and acclaimed Henri Cole (1956-) is yet another poet I’ve only recently encountered whose work I can’t wait to further explore.

“A Half-Life”

There is no sun today,
save the finch’s yellow breast,
and the world seems faultless in spite of it.
Across the sound, a continuous
ectoplasm of gray,
a ferry slits the deep waters,

bumping our little motorboats
against their pier.
The day ends like any day,
with its hour of human change
lifting even the chloreic heart.
If living in someone else’s dream

makes us soft, then I am so,
spilling out from the lungs
like green phlegm of spring.
My friend resting on the daybed
fills his heart with memory,
as July’s faithful swallows

weave figure eights above him,
vaulting with pointed wings and forked tails
for the ripe cherries he tosses them,
then ascending in a frolic
of fanned umbrella-feathers
to thread a far, airy steeple.

To my mind, the cherries form an endless
necklace-like cortex rising out
of my friend’s brain, the swallows
unraveling the cerebellum’s pink cord.
In remission six months,
his body novocained and irradiant,

he trembles, threadbare, as the birds unwheel him.
The early evening’s furnace casts
us both in a shimmering sweat.
In a wisp Gabriel might appear to us,
as to Mary, announcing a sweet
miracle. But there is none.

The lilies pack in their trumpets,
our nesting dove nuzzles her eggs,
and chameleons color their skin with dusk.
A half-life can be deepened by the whole,
sending out signals of a sixth sense,
as if the unabashed youthful eye

sees clearest to the other side.
A lemon slice spirals in the icy tea,
a final crystal pulse of the sun reappears,
and a newer infinite sight
takes hold of us like the jet of color
at the end of winter. Has it begun:

the strange electric vision of the dying?
Give me your hand, friend.
Come see the travelers arrive.
Beneath the lazy, bankrupt sky,
theirs is a world of joy trancing
even the gulls above the silver ferry.

My only advice is not to go away.

Grief is made luminous in this intensely beautiful Larry Levis (1946-1996) poem I have been reading and re-reading for the past year.

“In the City of Light”

The last thing my father did for me
Was map a way: he died, & so
Made death possible. If he could do it, I
Will also, someday, be so honored. Once,

At night, I walked through the lit streets
Of New York, from the Gramercy Park Hotel
Up Lexington & at that hour, alone,
I stopped hearing traffic, voices, the racket

Of spring wind lifting a newspaper high
Above the lights. The streets wet,
And shining. No sounds. Once,

When I saw my son be born, I thought
How loud this world must be to him, how final.

That night, out of respect for someone missing,
I stopped listening to it.

Out of respect for someone missing,
I have to say

This isn’t the whole story.
The fact is, I was still in love.
My father died, & I was still in love. I know
It’s in bad taste to say it quite this way. Tell me,
How would you say it?

The story goes: wanting to be alone & wanting
The easy loneliness of travelers,

I said good-bye in an airport & flew west.
It happened otherwise.
And where I’d held her close to me,
My skin felt raw, & flayed.

Descending, I looked down at light lacquering fields
Of pale vines, & small towns, each
With a water tower; then the shadows of wings;
Then nothing.

My only advice is not to go away.
Or, go away. Most

Of my decisions have been wrong.

When I wake, I lift cold water
To my face. I close my eyes.

A body wishes to be held, & held, & what
Can you do about that?

Because there are faces I might never see again,
There are two things I want to remember
About light, & what it does to us.

Her bright, green eyes at an airport—how they widened
As if in disbelief;
And my father opening the gate: a lit, & silent

City.