They said, my saints, my slogan-sayers sang,
Be good, my child, in spite of all alarm.
They stood, my fathers, tall in a row and said,
Be good, be brave, you shall not come to harm.
I heard them in my sleep and muttering dream,
And murmuring cried, How shall I wake to this?
They said, my poets, singers of my song,
We cannot tell, since all we tell you is
But history, we speak but of the dead.
And of the dead they said such history
(Their beards were blazing with the truth of it)
As made of much of me a mystery.
I sit here in a shelter behind the words
Of what I’m writing, looking out as if
Through a dim curtain of rain, that keeps me in here.
The words are like a scrim upon a page,
Obscuring what might be there beyond the scrim.
I can dimly see there’s something or someone there.
But I can’t tell if it’s God, or one of his angels,
Or the past, or future, or who it is I love,
My mother or father lost, or my lost sister,
Or my wife lost when I was too late to get there,
I only know that there’s something, or somebody, there.
Tell me your name. How was it that I knew you?
From Poetry; February 2009