Quantcast

David Ferry | The Nation

David Ferry

Author Bios

David Ferry

Articles

News and Features

Looking back, the language scribbles.
What's hidden, having been said?
Almost everything? Thrilling to think
There was a secret there somewhere,
A bird singing in the heart's forest.

Two people sitting by a river;
Sunlight, shadow, some pretty trees;
Death dappling in the flowing water;
Beautiful to think about,
Romance inscrutable as music.

Out of the ground, in New Jersey, my mother's
Voice, toneless, wailing--beseeching?
Crying out nothing? A winter vapor,
Out of the urn, rising in the yellow
Air, an ashy smear on the page.

The quiet room floats on the waters,
Buoyed up gently on the daylight;
The branch I can see stirs a little;
Nothing to think about; writing
Is a way of being happy.

What's going to be in this place?
A person entering a room?
Saying something? Signaling?
Writing a formula on a blackboard.
Something not to be understood.

It is always among sleepers we walk.

We walk in their dreams. None of us
Knows what he is as he walks
In the dream of another. Tell me my name
.
Your tongue is blurred, honeyed with error,
Your sleep's truth murmurs its secret.

Tell me your name. Out at the edge,
Out in the cold, out in the cold
That came into the house in your clothes
The wind's hands hold onto nothing,
Moaning, over the edge of the cliff
The wind babble unintelligible.

By the last few times we saw her it was clear
That things were different. When you tried to help her
Get out of the car or get from the car to the door
Or across the apartment house hall to the elevator
There was a new sense of heaviness
Or of inertia in the body. It wasn't
That she was less willing to be helped to walk
But that the walking itself had become less willing.
Maybe the stupid demogorgon blind
Recalcitrance of body, resentful of the laws
Of mind and spirit, was getting its own back now,
Or maybe a new and subtle, alien,
Intelligence of body was obedient now
To other laws: "Weight is the measure of
The force with which a body is drawn downward
To the center of the earth"; "Inertia is
The tendency of a body to resist
Proceeding to its fate in any way
Other than that determined for itself."

That evening, at the Bromells' apartment, after
She had been carried up through the rational structure
By articulate stages, floor after flashing floor,
And after we helped her get across the hall,
And get across the room to a chair, somehow
We got her seated in a chair that was placed
A little too far away from the nearest table,
At the edge of the abyss, and there she sat,
Exposed, her body the object of our attention--
The heaviness of it, the helpless graceless leg,
The thick stocking, the leg brace, the medical shoe.

. . .

Her smiling made her look as if she had
Just then tasted something delicious, the charm
Her courtesy attributed to her friends.

This decent elegant fellow human being
Was seated in virtue, character, disability,
Behind her the order of the ranged bookshelves,
The windows monitored by Venetian blinds--
"These can be raised or lowered; numerous slats,
Horizontally arranged, and parallel,
Which can be tilted so as to admit
Precisely the desired light or air."

. . .

The books there on the bookshelves told their stories,
Line after line, all of them evenly spaced,
And spaces between the words. You could fall through the spaces.
In one of the books Dr. Johnson told the story:
"In the scale of being, wherever it begins,
Or ends, there are chasms infinitely deep;
Infinite vacuities . . . For surely,
Nothing can so disturb the passions, or
Perplex the intellects of man so much,
As the disruption of this union with
Visible nature, separation from all
That has delighted or engaged him, a change
Not only of the place but of the manner
Of his being, an entrance into a state
Not simply which he knows not, but perhaps
A state he has not faculties to know."

The dinner was delicious, fresh greens, and reds,
And yellows, produce of the season due,
And fish from the nearby sea; and there were also
Ashes to be eaten, and dirt to drink.

Don't be too eager to ask
      What the gods have in mind for us,
What will become of you,
      What will become of me,
What you can read in the cards,
      Or spell out on the Ouija board.
It's better not to know.
      Either Jupiter says
This coming winter is not
      After all going to be
The last winter you have,
      Or else Jupiter says
This winter that's coming soon,
      Eating away the cliffs
Along the Tyrrhenian Sea,
      Is going to be the final
Winter of all. Be mindful.
      Take good care of your household.
The time we have is short.
      Cut short your hopes for longer.
Now as I say these words,
      Time has already fled
Backwards away--
      Leuconoë--
            Hold on to the day.

The chair left out in the garden night all winter
Sits waiting for the summer day all night.

The insides of the metal arms are frozen.
Over the house the night sky wheels and turns

All winter long even behind the day.

"I don't want to stay here. I want to stop it."
Was "here" the nursing home? Was it the chair?

The condition she was in? Her life? Life? The body?

. . .

..."Life" seems melodramatic,

Too large and general to fit the case.
But "the chair" seems too small. And "the nursing home"

Too obviously the right answer to be so.
In my reason and health I was outside this world,

Translating her words with a too easy confidence.
But Mary was there, imprisoned in it, sovereign.

The scene changed in the way I experienced it.
It was as if I wasn't in the room

But in the empty lobby of some building.
Mary was in an open elevator,

Old-fashioned, ornate, and beautiful.
The elevator kept moving up and down,

Kept going down to the hell below--when I
Leaned over and looked down then I could see

The suffering and also I could hear
Sounds of the suffering too--then up again

To the hellish heaven above--peering up there
Through the elevator shaft I saw and heard

The transcendental hilarious suffering there.
I heard voices as if there was singing or quarreling.

The Otis elevator never stopped at all.
Mary's body and spirit kept passing back and forth

Before my eyes, vivid, free of the conditions
In terms of which her sympathetic friend,

Standing in the deserted hallway, saw her
Carried up and down in the elevator.

Over and over I saw her going past,
Clinging to the bars, gesticulating,

Frantic, confusingly like a figure of joy.
In the heat of the room on the summer day

Mary, standing now, began to unzip her dress,
With a slowness and persistence that suggested

An indecent purpose, a naked revelation
Of body or soul, embarrassing to a visitor

There at the nursing home on a kind errand.
Perhaps she only wanted to unzip the dress

A little way, because of the summer heat.
But something about it seemed to refuse the suggestion.

There was a concentration and seriousness,
Oblivious of the visitor and his thoughts,

As when she looked so earnestly at the bouquet.
We were in the same room and not in the same room.

I was in the same room. She was in a shirt of fire.
She was out on a plain crossed by steppewinds.