The Poetry Porch
 

The Children of Paradise
by Kim Bridgford

Children of paradise, blond,
innocent, shining. . . Their
residence the limbo of the
unborn, their innocence the
innocence of bee-grubs.
          J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron


I.

Autumn leaves are the children of paradise,
Their colors in a shower that spends its wealth
Before it hits the ground, just like the lies
That people speak for love: to wrap the self
In pretty papers, watch the eyes grow cold
With disbelief. Loss echoes in our throats
Like each remembrance of our childhood,
The framed moment thatís there, then gone. The weights
Come down upon us all: the certainty
Of death. And thatís the lesson: we are not
Special, lined up in mediocrity.
When the babies die, like pages we forget
So soon, we wonder at the complex turn
The soul takes in the footprints it will learn.

II.

Autumn leaves are the children of paradise.
No wonder we sing to them, those gilded choirs
With the windís pure sound. No wonder they surprise
Each year: tinctured with the underside of fears
That we caress, like koans. Their point of view
Amazes, until weíve had enough, and so
We burn them in large piles. Before we do
We bury ourselves and laugh at what we know:
We will have more. Still thereís a feeling there
Of disquiet, the way we feel when easy
Things become the things we choose. The air
Is heavy then with burn and smoke, the dizzy
Smell of death. So soon it all is ash,
The campfire bewilderment of trash.

III.

Their colors in a shower that spends its wealth:
Meteors? Stars? Perhaps itís the kind of talk
That keeps the talkers going on, each half
Surprised when the sun circumvents its ache
By rising. Thatís what love is like in bed
When constellations are traced on the maps
Of the body. Charity is inherited
In its truest form by the careful stamp of lips.
For children itís a circus, this brief visit
Of extravagance spent in grease-paint for a night
Of balance on a rope. Each sequined foot
Touches down on the soul. And in the heat
Of a lionís mouth comes fear thatís tamed for once.
Weíre happy with this whip and growl of chance

IV.

Before it hits the ground, just like the lies
We tell ourselves about what might transpire,
The candy sticky in our mouths. Fear pries
Us from our lives, but when the lionís roar
Doesnít come, we cage ourselves instead.
Tucked into our beds like envelopes,
As children, we dream of nothing. Well contented,
We are the children of paradise, guard ropes
Around our days. Itís hard to find who grieves 
Here, until we find the girl whose aims,
For now, are in the kingdom of the leaves.
Daddy will find the golden one that gleams.
Look there: she clutches it, until itís gone.
Then Daddy will get her another one.

V.

That people speak for loveóto wrap the self
In other flesh that burns down to the rim
Of knowingóis no surprise. Itís the half
We yearn for in our half of body, home
At last. That Eden did that to us weíve
Forgotten, lost wholeness in the bitten fruit.
And so we weep for what is in the grave:
Those arms, those hands, those eyes to satiate
The soul. No wonder lies are easy, no
Wonder lovers stand outside to sing
In rain that tumbles from the tower. Below
Stands yearning, which is the throb of everything.
As the children of paradise, we see our eyes
Echoing the hyperbole of skies.

VI.

In pretty papers, watch the eyes grow cold;
In pretty papers, watch the body change
Like something tossed for rot. And then weíre old.
Things die outside of paradise, the range
Of agonies remarkable. Just time
Itself can be enough: the skin wrinkling
Up to what is lost. And then the fameó
Whatever wasóis given to the rankling
Taste of bitterness. The body is
Leaning, like a paper boat, into
The sea, the transitory wilderness:
The nothingness of the spiritís last adieu.
Donít be surprised, then, at the awful cry
Of the flesh-coat that pulls to misery.

VII.

With disbelief, loss echoes in our throats
With the death of the one we love, what matters
Most in life to us. Thatís why the gates
Of paradise must close. To have the adders
Sting again, and bring loss with a price
Would be too much. So we live under itó
This rule of never having love come twice
From death. And over time the composite
Of love filters to a yellowed photograph.
The future funnels to a singing sweep
Of sky, where angels take our words for death
And give them wings. To touch the nearest nape
Would be the fingerprints of goodness brought
Back from what lifeís disappointmentís wrought.

VIII.

Like each remembrance of our childhood,
This touch will linger in a quiet pool
Of memory. And it will be what once was good
In our lives. If we have something that fell
To tarnishing, it is this hope. A child
Can tuck embarrassment into a crevice
And feel the rain like blessings from the swelled
Sky, can touch a leaf because its surface
Shines. The children are the gleams of light
We recognize as something pure about
Ourselves, the innocence before the bite
Of apples ruined in their form. The brute
Blunder of our lives is proof that the past
Shows us that our loveliness wonít last,

IX.

The framed moment thatís there, then gone. The weights
Of dailiness take hold, and then a gray
Filter makes things the same. Where are the lights
Now that shone on the transparent day
And made each surface sing? Where is the word
That married form so that the letters fell
In perfect tasting on the tongue? The sword
Cut through this loveliness, and on a hill
God looked down. Drama wouldnít do to punish
Day to day, so He chose this: the reason
That it would take the will much more to finish
Every day. This is the truest lesson:
Lifeís difficulty springs from what is lost,
And human beings pay the daily cost.

X.

Come down on us all. The certainty
Of our cry is clear: take us into arms
That we canít know in our mortality,
But yearn for. Even in our largest aims
We want nothing more than this: caress
Of something to make us larger than we are.
And how to give a name for what, for us,
Is just forgotten paradise? The far
Echoes of our brain repeat with days
Of childhood: sleds in tandem down a hill,
And the laughter that is found with such an ease
That love is everywhere. So versatile
The brain that what is lost we bring before
And think of God throughout this metaphor

XI.

Of death. And thatís the lesson. We will not
Live. And we use the little space we have
To find it out. Somewhere the dying moment
Holds within its heart, like Adam, Eve,
And all, the thrill of what can be: the skin
Of a loved one, the map of where our days
Have rested; the first cry of a child, that thin
Bald cry that breaks into wild song, the ways
In which all nature joinsóthe leaf, the flower,
The twilight in its momentary scrim
Of beauty, the dawn lifting its full power
Over into day. Paradise will come
Again. We know it in the fragile prayers
That climb like love-notes up celestial stairs.

XII.

Special, lined up in mediocrity,
We wait in paradox of human form,
Our wings inside our thoughts, the poignant cry
Of what we can achieve. But then the worm
Inside us smothers with its slow smile
Of deceit. Half heaven and half muck, half soul
And body, we learn to do what takes a while,
And that is wait. Look at the sluggish mole,
Turning the earth aside with its blind eyes;
We get up, make our coffee, watch the sky,
And wonder why weíre doing this, sunrise
Pulling us forward, trembling, into day.
Something will happen. Something will make sense.
Something will bring us deliverance.

XIII.

When the babies die, like pages we forget,
Weíre thankful, at least, for ceremonies made
To bring us succor, a milky substance fraught
With tears that tumble up from grief. Our need
Is greater than our anything, and this
Brings home for us what loss of innocence
Has meant, the possibility of kiss
That never was, and in its purest sense,
A child in coils around what should have been
A life. And if what we have been is all
The promise of that child, how can each sin
Be livable? The ash of nearest gall
Makes us want to die, and how can we,
Knowing others lacked the voice to cry?

XIV.

So soon, we wonder at the complex turn
Of where the graying steps of life will lead,
Back to our simplest joys: the heartís slow burn
Of love, the food we like, the nodding head
Before a fire. And yet we think of time
As sifting through our hands. How will we save
The best, and what was it? Itís all the same,
Except the distant past, which wears the brave
Halo of God. Go forward into first
Days; go backward into what was new.
Itís then, perhaps, that a momentary burst
Of light will come, with more than what we know
Already. May that be the garden of life;
May that be the walkway out of grief.

XV.

The soul takes in the footprints it will learn
The grit and mud of life. It will learn love;
It will learn fear. It is the baby born
To hope; it is the baby that will save
Us all. How fitting Christ would come as one,
Then grow into a man, so that weíd see
A path so hard weíd know the steps within
Would mirror his. The children of misery
Are the children of paradise. Look at the leaves
Falling. Look at the gleams they make in flight.
Children of paradise, naked with loves
And trinkets, lifted like moths into the night,
Wings like underclothes, we take the sky
In all the clumsy poses of good-bye.

***

Copyright © 2004 by Kim Bridgford.