Pietà      En français

The day my brother died a silence grew.
It grew upon the corners of the room,
Upon the curtains shut, upon the floor.
It grew beyond the door ajar—dim blue
I stood before, not ready in myself.
How should one enter, or think even
To prepare dumb feet for the inevitable?
“Go in,” mother whispered.  So I did.

The room was not so much a thing,
Or age a span, for the house now
Seemed old as it was empty,
Though kind as never did it speak.
Could walls but talk.  They did not breathe,
But fostered me, the younger always;
And whether honestly or not, I believed
Myself less wise and worthy of this thing.

I took my place in silence at his head.
Sheets draped across his body.  Naked feet.
A stain of mother’s sweat still visible, tears
Beaded earlier that morning on his hair.
Could walls have seen, or dystrophy flex.
But they did not; her tears now fell alone.
I was not let to see, though see them now
In my imagining, a man, for what they are.

I was made to go to school, made to leave
To let my parents to their private rite of grief,
While brother, living still, yet crooked his neck
Like shepherd’s staff toward them,
Bent cheek for kisses.  Tiny at first, then each one
Grown larger to the room and to the door,—
Eyes too bleared from love to see.
But one more kiss—one more was all their wish.

Had I the sweat from off his brow
I would know then what I know now—
How mother wept in silence;
How father was this room:
The bulk ward of his chest pulled tight, in—
His broken arms both broad and thin,
His heart, at once heavy and wren,
Gathering unto himself wife and son.—
Yet in—yet in, the dead and dying.


We are all waiting, waiting for something:
for final report to come from the wards;
or word from the doctors who've been up all night,
who see more of porters and clerks
than of husbands and wives; or for babies
who damn well come as they please,
despite all our wanting, annoyance and grief;
we're waiting for any, just half-diagnosis, for Greek,
that if pill cannot cure us, that knowledge at least
would bring peace—to have named it;
if only a doctor could soothe and befriend it,
     if only a nurse give relief,
till it goes away, and quiets and sleeps;
that is, until snores from the next room
awaken, and there is found waiting—
again the delays!—we are waiting
to offer what's wanted and needed;
for ambulance bills to drop in the mail;
for codes to be called from overhead pagers;
for water, and blankets, and chaplains, and tea;
for some other roommate, some better company.
Waiting for waiting, though wait as we may,
even babies, we know, who arrive as they please
     wait for home.

An Open Letter to Librarians      En français

Light drinks the bookshelf where I stand.
My mind it searches. It searches those ideals
Once traced by hand.
But when to say?  But where to look
In search of who and what I am?

Librarians, you know God’s honest truth:
How politicians they were printed out of Time,
And not vice versa. Not cut-throat they,
Though neither bred upon the milk of human kindness.
They were a mother’s once
Who held their shyness to a book.
How they would always take one over grudges.
And budgets—throw caution to the wind!—
They wrote letters!
From books which taught them how to write,
From stacks which shewed them how to read.
This very one composed between the stacks,
As nimble hands cracked spine after spine
Like husks of corn to get at Truth;
As eyes scythed sentences like rows of wheat
From musty book sleeves
And weaves of jackets, leather bound,
Through peopled minds once animal.
This one I hold was once a huffing cow.
It’s cold nostril, hoof on loam,
Lowing in birth.

I remember when a book was once a book but when
(And a politician a politician when and only when)
It had some wooed librarian under its command,
Providence its Province; and when
A poem was its ardour and its faith
But prayed, and not consumed; and
Education was a seeking but of Truth:
How Truth adorned the seeker
With his clothes and with her shoes.

I remember trees my pages shook—
Not plastic or glass leaf, but
Leather stitched on wood,
Beauty in the silence as
The pure mind woke
Slowly to the One becoming real,
Nose to nose with sensuality:
The mind denuded from its whip,
Man from all his discipline.

I remember here the Good I come to sniff—
These stacks, these pages, hallowed
In the Name of all Thy dreamers.
I was once a page myself who dreamed them
Politicians into light.

Light drinks the bookshelf where I stand
In search of who and what I am.