Copyright © 1996 Robert Hass.All rights reserved.
Because yesterday morning from the steamy windowwe saw a pair of red foxes across the creekeating the last windfall apples in the rain--they looked up at us with their green eyes long enough to symbolize the wakefulness of living thingsand then went back to eating--
and because this morningwhen she went into the gazebo with her black pen and yellow padto coax an inquisitive soulfrom what she thinks of as the reluctance of matter,I drove into town to drink tea in the cafeand write notes in a journal--mist rose from the baylike the luminous and indefinite aspect of intention,and a small flock of tundra swansfor the second winter in a row was feeding on new grassin the soaked fields; they symbolize mystery, I suppose,they are also called whistling swans, are very white,and their eyes are black--
and because the tea steamed in front of me, and the notebook, turned to a new page,was blank except for a faint blue idea of order,
I wrote: happiness! it is December, very cold,we woke early this morning,and lay in bed kissing,our eyed squinched up like bats.
OUR LADY OF THE SNOWS
In white,the unpainted statue of the young girlon the side altarmade the quality of mercy seem scrupulous and calm.
When my mother was in a hospital drying out,or drinking at a pace that would put her there soon,I would slip in the side door,light an aromatic candle,and bargain for us both.Or else I'd stare into the day-moon of that faceand, if I concentrated, fly.
Come down! come down!she'd call, because I was so high.
Though mostly when I think of myselfat that age, I am standing at my older brother's closetstudying the shirts,convinced that I could be absolutely transformedby something I could borrow.And the days churned by,navigable sorrow.
The people who lived here before usalso loved these high mountain meadows on summer mornings.They made their way up here in easy stageswhen heat began to dry the valleys out,following the berry harvest probably and the pine buds:climbing and making camp and gathering,then breaking camp and climbing and making camp and gathering.A few miles a day. They sent out the childrento dig up bulbs of the mariposa lilies that they liked to roastat night by the fire where they sat talking about how this yearwas different from last year. Told stories,knew where they were on earth from the names,owl moon, bear moon, gooseberry moon.
Jaime de Angulo (1934) was talking to a Channel Island Indianin a Santa Barbara bar. You tell me how your people saidthe world was made. Well, the guy said, Coyote was on the mountainand he had to pee. Wait a minute, Jaime said,I was talking to a Pomo the other day and he saidRed Fox made the world. They say Red Fox, the guy shrugged,we say Coyote. So, he had to peeand he didn't want to drown anybody, so he turned toward the placewhere the ocean would be. Wait a minute, Jaime said,if there were no people yet, how could he drown anybody?The Channelleno got a funny look on his face. You know,he said, when I was a kid, I wondered about that,and I asked my father. We were living up toward Santa Ynez.He was sitting on a bench in the yard shaving down fence postswith an ax, and I said, how come Coyote was worried about peoplewhen he had to pee and there were no people? The guy laughed.And my old man looked up at me with this funny smileand said, You know, when I was a kid, I wondered about that.
Thinking about that story just now, early morning heat,first day in the mountains, I remembered stories about sick Indiansand--in the same thought--standing on the free throw line.
St. Raphael's parish, where the northern-most of the missionshad been, was founded as a hospital, was named for the angelin the scriptures who healed the blind man with a fish
he laid across his eyes.--I wouldn't mind being that age again,hearing those stories, eyes turned upward toward the young nunin her white, fresh-smelling, immaculately laundered robes.--
The Franciscan priests who brought their faith in Godacross the Atlantic, brought with the baroque statues and metalwork crossesand elaborately embroidered cloaks, influenza and syphilis and the coughing disease.
Which is why we settled an almost empty California.There were drawings in the mission museum of the long, dark wardsfull of small brown people, wasted, coughing into blankets,
the saintly Franciscan fathers moving patiently among them.It would, Sister Marietta said, have broken your hearts to see it.They meant so well, she said, and such a terrible thing
came here with their love. And I remembered how I hated itafter school--because I loved basketball practice more than anythingon earth--that I never knew if my mother was going to show up
well into one of those weeks of drinking she disappeared into,and humiliate me in front of my classmates with her bright, confident eyes,and slurred, though carefully pronounced words, and the appalling
impromptu sets of mismatched clothes she was given towhen she had the dim idea of making a good impression in that state.Sometimes from the gym floor with its sweet, heady smell of varnish
I'd see her in the entryway looking for me, and I'd bouncethe ball two or three times, study the orange rim as if it were,which it was, the true level of the world, the one sure thing
the power in my hands could summon. I'd bounce the ballonce more, feel the grain of the leather in my fingertips and shoot.It was a perfect thing; it was almost like killing her.
When we say "mother" in poems,we usually mean some woman in her late twentiesor early thirties trying to raise a child.
We use this particular nounto secure the pathos of the child's point of viewand to hold her responsible.
If you're afraid now?Fear is a teacher.Sometimes you thought thatNothing could reach her,Nothing can reach you.Wouldn't you ratherSit by the river, sitOn the dead bank,Deader than winter, Where all the roots gape?
This morning in the early sun,steam rising from the pond the color of smoky topaz,a pair of delicate, copper-red, needle-fine insectsare mating in the unopened crown of a Shasta daisyjust outside your door. The green flowerheads look like wombsor the upright, supplicant bulbs of a vegetal pre-erection.The insect lovers seem to be transferring the cosmos into each otherby attaching at the tail, holding utterly still, and quivering intently.
I think (on what evidence?) that they are different from us. That they mate and are done with mating.They don't carry all this half-mated longing up out of childhoodand then go looking for it everywhere.And so, I think, they can't wound each other the way we do.They don't go through life dizzy or groggy with their hunger,kill with it, smear it on everything, though it is perhaps also truethat nothing happens to them quite like what happens to uswhen the blue-backed swallow dips swiftly toward the green pondand the pond's green-and-blue reflected swallow marries it a momentin the reflected sky and the heart goes out to the end of the ropeit has been throwing into abyss after abyss, and a singing shimmersfrom every color the morning has risen into.
My insect instructors have stilled, they are probably stuck togetherin some bliss and minute pulse of after-longing evolution worked out to suck the last juice of the worldinto the receiver body. They can't separate probablyuntil it is done.