Testimony of the Senses; Glosa

Testimony of the Senses

On earth you never can rely
On what the senses understand.
—Saint John of the Cross

Sky, scraped by shadow;
maple, blazing; stained
glass; starlight; phosphor;
pixels; pitch dark; ice
storm; sudden sunlight.

Lowing cows, cello
notes, mobbing birds (seet,
seet, chick-a-dee-dee),
claxon, choir, surfroar,
silence, breath, breathing . . .

Flesh rotting (rabbit,
clipped by the mower),
scent of linden trees,
midsummer rain, stale
tobacco, warm bread.

Blood on the tongue; taste
of sex in the mouth,
salty. Wine, lemons,
and sweetness: dripping
berries, plums, ripe figs.

Skinned pelt, infant skin,
soft bruise, red welt; hands
grip, slap; lips on nape
of neck, kiss—yes—feel
love’s caress; love’s bite.

The fish taken out of the sea
Is not without a consolation:
Its dying is of brief duration
And ultimately brings relief.
—Saint John of the Cross

Far from myself, in pain and yet
not feeling, I’m sunk into a trance.
All around me, the cosmic dance
goes on, its beautiful motet,
its counterpoint and pirouette . . .
Is this how I am loved? So well
that I am prisoner in a hell
devised of tears and sleep? Beset
by nothing I can name, I envy
the fish taken out of the sea—

a shock like that has sweet appeal.
The force of elemental change
might cause the brain to rearrange
and set the body free to feel
the hook, the dock, the sun, the real
experience of its own end,
and the soul (for let us pretend
there is a soul, and it can heal),
in that moment of sensation,
is not without a consolation,

flown from its chamber of disease.
My soul rejects both love and food;
all I can do is tend my mood
and stare into its vortices,
ignoring those insistent pleas—
We need milk. Love, you have to call
the plumber. Mom? There is a wall
to scale, and I am on my knees.
Is a fish more than a person?
Its dying is of brief duration,
so different from yours: how long
your dying took, Father, compared
with what we’d hoped; how unprepared
we were, and you, afraid and strong
at once, in that slow evensong
of loud machines and spongy shoes . . .
My sorrow gone, I’d stand to lose
you twice. The counselors are wrong:
it’s more a state than stages, grief—
abiding there brings us relief.