Celebrating Poetry

The poem for the month of August is "For Edna St. Vincent Millay" . . . . 

FOR EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

 

 

If death finds me

Before turning to you,

Do this, somehow,

If somehow it can be done:

Carry my body to Austerlitz

And drag it up the hill,

Through the woods at Steepletop

To the place where the poet lies

Submerged in the ground,

Adrift in death

And turning in time,

Suspended, like an ancient seed

Beyond the reach of roving worms.

 

Carry me through empty night

When others have retreated

To the comfort of homes

And take me, quietly,

Up the hill, beyond the firs

And further still,

Through somber summer air

Or winter’s cold indifference

But, take me there, in any case,

Through paths that still resound

With the echo of her rapid step,

Beyond the basil and verbena

That, in a garden, wait for her;

Past ryegrass fields from which she saw

The day descend and night withdraw,

To the ground that holds her modest grave

Marked, simply, by a common rock

And when you find it, stop

And dig my grave upon a spot

Beside the one in which she lies.

 

Dig with diligence and speed

With all your strength and will;

Create a berth that’s wide and deep

So that I may rest for the rest of time

Forever in her company;

And, when your work is done,

Recite a quiet prayer for me

And say a prayer for yourself as well

And pray for Edna St. Vincent Millay,

Say “amen” and let me drop

And do your best to cover me up.

 

I’ll utter not a word

For a century or two, at least,

For fear that I might disrupt

The subtle process of her thought

But, when the time is right,

I’ll cough, quietly,

To let her know that I exist;

And, in time, let fly

A remark or two

That I’ve rehearsed

A thousand times through the course of years

To sound spontaneous and, yet, profound

(Regarding, perhaps, the banality of death).

And, in time, she shall speak to me

And we shall converse, from time to time,

With ever increasing frequency,

About all and everything,

Of matters great and trivial,

And anything that comes to mind

(for the silence of death is unbearable).

 

And she will, one day, understand

That her temperament is very much like mine

And, inevitably, we shall spend our days

In dialogue, like old friends

Each unable to abandon the other

Without expressing a final thought,

and then another,

And chat away as decades pass

Like moments pass within a dream

And we shall, no doubt, laugh out loud

And gossip in rapid code,

And speak of traumas that haunt us still

And loss that came as we grew up

And regret that came as we grew old,

And we shall periodically exchange

The truths and secrets that may be shared

only by those who have lived and died.

 

Eventually, the day will come

When she will teach me how to see

The whole of all and everything,

And set me on the road

That winds through time

To hold, again, my hidden heart

That, long ago, I left behind

(misguided as I was back then)

And she will show me how to see

The beauty of the world

Through which I pass,

Illumined by light luxuriant

That lights the way

And warms the path.

 

In a thousand years,

When worms and insects

Have had their fill,

Our bodies reduced to dust

And lost like drops of rain

Upon the ground,

I’d ask her (oh so carefully)

What manner of vision it was

That brought her face to face

With God each day,

And enabled her to see

The world with utter clarity,

And find simplicity in beauty

And beauty in simple things,

And point to it and say to me:

“Hello, it’s there, in front of you“;

 

I’ll ask how it felt to see

A sky that others couldn’t see,

And hear the loon’s soft melody

Inaudible to the rest of us,

And what it was, one afternoon,

That prompted her to wander off

While lost in thought,

And trip along the gilded edge

of Autumn’s long perimeter                                             

And, in a sudden, stop and lean

Against the rusted wire fence

And linger there to contemplate

The endless, fallow fields of death.

 

In time, I’d ask her how it was

that she could simply sit

Upon a chair before her desk

And lift her pen into the air

And set it down upon the empty page

And convert those holy things to words,

Destined to outlive the very things described,

Secure within the sanctuary of those words,

So appropriate and apt,

Sensual and wrapped in light,

Rhythmic, aromatic and serene,

Alive as images upon the page

like photos in a picture book,

Myriad, wonderful things:

Sullen rocks and graveyards,

Trembling lips and orange peels,

Barren weeds and half-closed eyes,

Moss and mist and beached fish,

Pigeons and the scent of lavender,

things that were loved and things that died,

Images that can be touched and seen,

Alive in words like words in a song

That shouldn’t be recited

But should, instead, be sung.

 

Though I was born into the world

Long after she had left it,

I will ask how it came to be

That she could know me perfectly,

And how it could be

That, through her words,

I found myself on a ferry boat

Riding back and forth all night,

Aimless and exuberant,

And saw, through her words,

a shawl covered head

And, ever since, have felt the weight

Of death’s relentless gravity;

And how it could be

That, through her words,

I once did see, in front of me,

Three long mountains and a wood

And I beheld, as well,

Three islands in a bay,

And, most important,

How it was that, long ago,

On a quiet night,

The open book upon my lap,

I turned the page and, suddenly,

I wasn’t there but somewhere else

And, somehow, had come to Steepletop

And sat amid the cottongrass

Beyond the spruce and sycamore,

Past trillium and pitcher plants

And as I sat, in ecstasy,

The sun rose up in front of me.

                       

About this poem:   I think my love of poetry began with the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. There's nothing I can write that hasn't already been said.  For the sake of full disclosure:  I learned, after the poems was published, that Millay was actually cremated.   This might detract a bit from the narrative of my poem (though, in fact, her ashes are buried at Steepletop).  I hope this doesn't upset or offend - but, to that person, I say:  we still have much in common.

"For Edna St. Vincent Millay" first appeared in The Esthetic Apostle, January, 2019