A Long-Time Favorite

Sunday Morning

Wallace Stevens, 18791955

I

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

II

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

III

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

IV

She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

V

She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.”
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

VI

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

VIII

She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

From Harmonium (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

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There Is Nothing Perfect

I had a startling dream early this morning. I heard my husband shout my name, which jolted me out of a sound sleep. Jolted upright. I hate and despise being ripped out of sleep by fear.

And it felt so real. It always feels so fucking real.

I tried calling him twice, as he’d already left for work. There was a tension in my chest, and in my breathing, a kind of shortness and quickness of breath. A tension akin to a panic attack, but not fully so–just the fring-y edge of panic hovering, waiting for me to lose strength.

I was filled with the constricting and mean-spirited hug of feelings that shouldn’t have been there, but that were there anyway.

My husband finally called me back, and of course he was fine. I made up an excuse for my call…asking him if his car seat had been wet, because maybe I had left the window down last night, and maybe I thought I had heard a storm.

No, my seat was not wet, and no, there was not a storm…You called me for this?

Am I afraid that something bad is about to happen, or that something bad has happened when I get those vice-tight feelings, when I get those bolt-upright dreams?

Actually, the answer to that is a resounding yes. I actually am afraid. Why?

Because I have bad dreams.

And there she is, that little girl again, who was never taught to navigate fear, or to recognize the conscious from the subconscious, or to see the difference between the things she can control and the things she can’t. It’s all mixed up together in a six-year old’s lonely little mind.

My mind.

I go out to the porch to smoke. I do that occasionally, lately. Very occasionally, lately.

I hear the rustle of the wind in my aspen trees, the caw of three crows circling, and I hear the Mother speak into my soul…

Oh, Little Wren. You are not alone in this. Some things will be ok and some things won’t. But you will learn by experience and through the wisdom of others that this is what is. And life is fine. You are fine, right at this moment. You are fine.

And there is nothing perfect. There is only Love. (Ok. So maybe it was Sue Monk Kidd speaking to my soul…but I’m claiming her as another of my mothers. I’m collecting mothers lately, and she’s one of my top three…)