January 28, 2016

When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone by Galway Kinnell



When one has lived a long time alone
one refrains from swatting the fly
and lets him go, and one hesitates to strike
the mosquito, though more than willing go slap
the flesh under her, and one lifts the toad
from the pit too deep for him to hop out of
and carries him to the grass, without minding
the toxic urine he slicks his body with,
and one envelops, in a towel, the swift
who fell down the chimney and knocks herself
against the window glass and releases her outside
and watches her fly free, a life line flung at reality,
when one has lived a long time alone.



When one has lived a long time alone,
one grabs the snake behind the head
and holds him until he stops trying to stick
the orange tongue, which splits at the end
into two black filaments and jumps out
like a fire-eater's belches and has little
in common with the pimpled pink lump that shapes
sounds and sleeps inside the human mouth,
into one's flesh, and clamps it between his jaws,
letting the gaudy tips show, as children do
when concentrating, and as very likely
one does oneself, without knowing it,
when one has lived a long time alone.



When one has lived a long time alone,
among regrets so immense the past occupies
nearly all the room there is in consciousness,
one notices in the snake's eyes, which look back
without paying less attention to the future,
the first coating of the opaque milky-blue
leucoma snakes to get when about to throw
their skins and become new––meanwhile continuing,
of course, to grow old––the exact bleu passé
that discolors the corneas of the blue-eyed
when they lie back at last and look for heaven,
a blurring one can see means they will never find it,
when one has lived a long time alone.



When one has lived a long time alone,
one holds the snake near a loudspeaker disgorging
gorgeous sound and watches him crook
his forepart into four right angles
as though trying to slow down the music
flowing through him, in order to absorb it
the milk of paradise into the flesh,
and now a glimmering appears at his mouth,
such a drop of intense fluid as, among humans,
could form after long exiting at the tip
of the the penis, and as he straightens himself out
he has the pathos one finds in the penis,
when one has loved a long time alone.


When one has lived a long time alone,
one can fall to poring upon a creature,
contrasting its eternity's-face to one's own
full of hours, taking note of each difference,
exaggerating it, making it everything,
until the other is utterly other, and then,
with hard effort, possibly with tongue sticking out,
going back over each one once again
and cancelling it, seeing nothing now
but likeness, until . . . half an hour later
one starts awake, taken aback at how eagerly
one swoons into the happiness of kinship,
when one has lived a long time alone.


When one has lived a long time alone
and listens at morning to mourning doves
sound their kyrie eleison, or the small thing
spiritualizing onto one's shoulder cry "pewit-phoebe!"
or peabody-sparrows at midday send schoolboys'
whistlings across the field, or at dusk, undamped,
unforgiving clinks, as from stonemasons' chisels,
or on trees' backs tree frogs scratch the thighs'
needfire awake, or from the frog pond pond frogs
raise their ave verum corpus—listens to those
who hop or fly call down upon us the mercy
of other tongues—one hears them as inner voices,
when one has lived a long time alone.


When one has lived a long time alone,
one knows only consciousness consummates,
and as the conscious one among these others
uttering compulsory cries of being here—
the least flycatcher witching up "che-bec,"
or redheaded woodpecker clanging out his
music from a metal drainpipe, or ruffed grouse
drumming "thump thrump thrump thrump-thrump-
through the treees, all of them in time's
unfolding trying to cry themselves into self-knowing—
one knows one is here to hear them into shining,
when one has lived a long time alone.


When one has loved a long time alone,
one likes alike the pig, who brooks no deferment
of gratification, and the porcupine, or thorned pig,
who enters the cellar but not the house itself
because of eating down the cellar stairs on the way up,
and one likes the worm, who by bunching herself together
and expanding rubs her way through the ground,
no less than the butterfly, who totters full of worry
among the day-lilies, as they darken,
and more and more one finds one likes
any other species better than one's own,
which has gone amok, making one self-estranged,
when one has lived a long time alone.


When one has lived a long time alone,
sour, misanthropic, one fits to one's defiance
the satanic boast—It is better to reign
in hell than to submit on earth—
and forgets one's kind, as does the snake,
who has stopped trying to escape and moves
at ease across one's body, slumping into its contours,
adopting its temperature, and abandons hope
of the sweetness of friendship or love
—before long can barely remember what they are—
and covets the stillness in organic matter,
in a self-dissolution one may not know how to halt,
when one has lived a long time alone.


When one has loved a long time alone,
and the hermit thrush calls and there is an answer,
and the bullfrog, head half out of water, remembers
the exact sexual cantillations of his first spring,
and the snake slides over the threshold and disappears
among the stones, one sees they all live
to mate with their kind, and one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward the kingdom of strangers,
the hard prayer inside one's own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one's own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.


When one has lived a long time alone,
one wants to live again among men and women,
to return to that place where one's ties with the human
broke, where the disquiet of death and now
also of history glimmers its firelight on faces,
where the gaze of the new baby looks past the gaze
of the great-granny, and where lovers speak,
on lips blowsy from kissing, that language
the same in each mouth, and like birds at daybreak
blether the song that is both earth's and heaven's,
until the sun has risen, and they stand
in a light of being united: kingdom come,
when one has lived a long time alone.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at January 28, 2016 4:02 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

That is good. Thank you.

Posted by: Mushroom at January 29, 2016 7:48 AM

I like snakes.

Posted by: Snakepit Kansas at January 30, 2016 7:12 AM

Notice is hereby posted to all insects, arachnids and slithering reptilia:

The INSIDE of my house is off limits.
Enter at your own risk.
You have all the rest of the world to live in.
My few little square feet are reserved for me and mine.
Please observe, and I promise to treat you fairly in the rest of the world.

To the two baby snakes who got caught inside on the glue trap in the basement:
I freed you to go and stay outside. Do not repeat your mistake or do so at your own peril.

To the lizard that was meandering around the living room:
I don't know where you ended up, and I assume you successfully found your way back home. I was just trying to help you out, and had no menace in my heart.

To all arachnids and scorpions found in the basement:
I will make attempts to squish you. I do not wish to be bitten and have my flesh die, nor to be bitten and feel the pain. Please leave and find a new home. Thank you.

To all flies:
You are not welcome, no matter how long I live. You carry too much disease, and cause too much hardship in the world. Stay away or be swatted.

I once was unable to avoid running over a snake while mowing. He/she emerged relatively unscathed after I passed over. However. He/she was unable to slither in a straight line, and kept going around in circles to the left, CCW as viewed from above. I make the assumption that said snake's head was contacted somewhat by the blade, knocked around a bit, leaving one half of the brain a bit 'buzzed' and unable to instruct one-side of the slithering bits, resulting in circular travel. I continued to mow, and monitored the area for a while after. The snake finally was able to travel straight-line, went off and was never(maybe) seen again. However, there is one snake that I have observed regularly for a while, who raises its head, stares at me, watching as I mow, and then takes off. Maybe one of the two babies? Or the one whacked by the mower blade? I dunno, but life goes on...

Posted by: tomw at January 30, 2016 10:16 AM