The Poetry Porch

Rebecca Seiferle

In that language, we two is a first person dual pronoun

as in: “I” have a bag full of jokes, a dragonfly’s 
eye with which any 
perception can be faceted into
a thousand equilateral views: “You”

could say it is the eye of equanimity,
though someone else might say,
it is the eye of division.
In its gaze nothing is singular:

you will look through this eye
for the one (1) you love
and find a multiplicity,
a fracturing of the one into many, her face

reflected in so many pools of light,
that you will become convinced,
you are only a darkness.
You will be dragged

down into the pool 
of sacrificial water
by the limitations 
of your “self,”

for after all, for all you may admire
the gaze of the dragonfly,
you do not have its iridescent wings
that balance so precisely

at the edge of the water.

This is the page 
you can look through,
though it resists
you by catching “you”
in a net of words.
Or perhaps it’s this microscope you want,
that relic of childhood with its faith
in discovery and the power
of illumination, the instrument

so full of the difficulties
of illumination. Remember
the arduous process
by which you tried to catch

just enough light from the sun
in that tiny and cheap mirror?
As flawed you are, it was still
needed to light up

everything, just as you have nothing
but your “self” as a hinge
for opening the door
to the world.

If you look into this depth,
you will find that self (whose?) embodying
the mystery of a remote
and weary god,

as you slip the slide with its raindrop
of light into the clips of the mount
and bring into focus these struggling
cells, their mouths a galaxy

of want and desire, their tails
flogging themselves forward,
the weaker ones flagging 
at the edge of the drop,

“that pond,” “that lake,”
you have created in order to view
what you can not see by the naked eye,
the diminished and isolated

selves . . .

Look, all I want is to love you
as we should love everyone . . .

“Even that boy
with no shirt
and the look of a well-oiled seal who
is beating something senseless
in the pudgy sunlight

while his mother with the face of a desert
and the hands of an eight-year-old girl
reaching for everything, everything, everything
haggles over a vacuum?”

“Be quiet, I can’t think, there’s the telescope,
rattling around, not quite fitting
in the bag, its long eye as distant
as you are, almost a miracle really

bringing you the constellations 
of knowledge that infect you
with certain impossible
and vain desires,

like touching the wing 
of that extinct parrot
on that most distant branch,
to touch the sadly nibbled fingers

of the beloved, chewed back
as they are by anxiety,
for whatever stars may light up
the limitations of the glass,

that darkness will remain
within her, a kind of space that calls to you
with the mysteriousness
of open feeling, but which you may

come to confuse with
the much nearer and more familiar
darkness which has always existed
in you.”

Well, as much
as it hurts to walk
around like one on fire,
I’m afraid
“I” am
of the ashes,
that damp stench
of what is extinguished
permeating the house.
And, perhaps, that “love”
that you speak of is only
language. The field glasses,
for instance, full of the information

of war, you’ve forgotten how you plot
and eye the minefield that you are,
watching the thick woods on the other side
of the river, for the flash of bayonets, for every

relationship is a kind of war, in which you either fight
with the one you love or fight with yourself
on behalf of the other, which I’ve always thought,
personally speaking, is what Kafka meant

when he wrote, in “the fight between
yourself and the world, back the world,”
for he couldn’t have been merely advocating
bowing to a superior force. He must have meant

the necessity of preferring the cause of the other
to the cause of oneself, as difficult as that may be.
Simone Weil would have said, “true friendship
is rare” and, truthful most of the time,

these field glasses will be uncanny with luck,
finding the right spot in the enemy line
where the young soldiers have fallen asleep,
or by chance, picking some number out of the air

to suggest that you don’t want to be “passionate
friendship 105” thinking it is a mere number,
harmless as the dust cloud rising at random
along that distant road, not realizing

it is the very number
which has wounded your enemy (which is,
to say, the one you love), and the scar
of the arrow has not yet faded,

just as that dust rising along the road
are legions of warriors leaping onto their horses,
sent by the one you love (which is to say,
the one who is now your enemy),

riding toward you furiously, because
this morning, still drowsy with sleep, they caught
the glimmering flash of your field glasses
and knew they were under attack.

“Yes, I remember
the time I was sitting at the kitchen table
and she came over and placed this knife
in front of me and said ‘here is the knife
with which you will kill me.’
I hardly knew what to say.
I was so shocked, I said something
ironic, my usual method of self-defense,
something like, ‘I wouldn’t go to the trouble’,
and later when I said I was sorry for my ironic
remark, she said it was ok, that she knew 
I was sorry by the catch in my breath,
which must have been the sound
of the other knife, the invisible one
of language
which she had just driven into me.”
But what of the knife? The knife, oh
of course,
the knife;
it’s still there upon the table.
 Can’t we throw this stuff out? Aren’t you sick
of this junk? Your grandmother’s dentures
still gnashing at your grandfather after fifty years
because he wanted to dance with that other “girl,”
their neighbor’s wife in her sixties? The clipping 
that your father left in his thesaurus when the woman
he wanted to be his second wife married
someone else? The three faded leaves
of your first rejection, those strawberries
you could not find, so much junk you’ve picked up
from casual relationships and conversations, which you’ve kept
just in case you need them, digging through another’s trash
for what might be useful,
so “you” can see
as “others” do, perceive what “they” perceive? Just face it,
you’re never going to understand how “you” exist in the world,
how “you” are perceived by others, how they believe
in those images of you which walk about in your clothes, wearing
your name, and yet whose semblances turn to you
with a gaze of fog, so “you” become lost
to your own eye/“I”, as if being itself 
were a kind of seasickness, as once,
standing in a bookstore full of strangers
waiting for a reading I was talking
to my former lover’s new lover and realized
that everyone in the room had her body
in common, and that I felt guilty about being
the first, for hadn’t she said to me, tears
running down her cheeks, how everyone
was just “a pale reflection of you” as if being

in you had sent her off to a life of replication
and recurrence in which what mattered
most was less the multiplication
of the flesh
than the reproduction
of the original sorrow.

I think we are beginning to sound alike
in some dislocated cave
of wood 
where one makes a house out of the demarcations
on the forest floor, of fallen branches,
the sweeping away
of the fallen pine needles,
the other plays at “home” 
in the scraped earth.
Yes, I know, you’ve said this before,
you have difficulty thinking of yourself
at all, that’s why, seeking some relief,
and I don’t blame you for this,

you try to gaze through the petals
of the lily, a bit ridiculous, don’t you think?
but it’s still here, turning a bit brown
in the bottom of this bag, and yet

you think you can see through the flesh
of the world, as if the light itself,
the disembodied radiance that ignites
the pores with beauty, that hand

upon a table with its delineation
of muscles and veins, and you think 
that this is a kind of spiritual love,
a sort of relief

to lay oneself down, dreaming
among the lilies, like a sheath
which has forgotten the sword,
bending your neck

to the hand or the blade
of the light that seems to fall
upon you like the inscrutability of God;
at this point, though, memory usually drags

you back into the inventory of the bag.
Though the quartz will suggest to you
the serenity of geological layers,
you’ll kid yourself, you’ll think

perhaps in another life, or on another
level of hell or paradise, for it’s the level
that matters, not where,
you will find the other

and yourself
in some hierarchy of angels
or ranking of principalities
and will experience at least the certainty

with which the starfish
clings to the rock
in the tidal pool, but I begin
to think “you”

do not exist, that I am really talking
about myself.

And who is that?
Blah, as common
as any mirror,
any shard will do 
to create
the same weary
Basically the secret name
of any mirror
is survival,
and that’s why it’s empty
until someone lends it a face. 

Where was I?

Who are you anyway?
What are “you” but the hand that picked
up various sorrows and carried them here?
I know what “I” am, I am a “poet,” which is to say
a peddler of words, dragging
along all the dust and clatter of Babel,
and so many othersI meant to say other things

but it’s others, too: a bag full of the roots
of what can never be transplanted,
a very small bag as heavy
as a collapsed star full of all

the secrets that I have been told,
another full of severed wings
which can be heard at night
rustling trying to find

their way out,

which drives me to language
drives me to silence
which drives me to silence,
as I am driven to you,
which is not much different from
my grandfather and his twin brother
peddling their bars of soap
in the Alpine valleys
until they strayed into another
country, for I am always straying 
into another world.
I thought then if I stopped writing, I would die,
but not even death can stop the language, the dead
are yammering all the time, I don’t need to see
what I’m trying to write, it’s for others to read,
that’s why there’s no way to laugh on paper besides
writing hahaha, only the reader can laugh, I’m just
the darkness on the other side of the page.

Is that your brother dead in the field 
Or is that yourself?

God has given you one face,
you have made for yourself another. 
O grant me the affectionate
touch of the tongue
and the soft smile of friendship.
Render useless the cruel
traps and snares. 
Let me not be drunk
on what is poisonous.
Set no dead corpse 
before me. 
Let mercy and goodness 
follow me all the days of my life.
Let my heart not be caught 
in a cage of snow. 
May the word which flies
out of . . .
fly into . . .
as the syllable of that original tongue
that you may not break,
that I may not be broken.


Copyright © 2004 by Rebecca Seiferle.