The wind was a green ghost

“Feel Me

“Feel me to do right,” our father said on his deathbed.
We did not quite know—in fact, not at all—what he meant.
His last whisper was spent as through a slot in a wall.
He left us a key, but how did it fit? “Feel me
to do right.” Did it mean that, though he died, he would be felt
through some aperture, or by some unseen instrument
our dad just then had come to know? So, to do right always,
we need but feel his spirit? Or was it merely his apology
for dying? “Feel that I do right in not trying,
as you insist, to stay on your side. There is the wide
gateway and the splendid tower, and you implore me
to wait here, with the worms!”

Had he defined his terms, and could we discriminate
among his motives, we might have found out how to “do right”
before we died—supposing he felt he suddenly knew
what dying was. “You do wrong because you do not feel
as I do now” was maybe the sense. “Feel me, and emulate
my state, for I am becoming less dense—I am feeling right
for the first time.” And then the vessel burst,
and we were kneeling around an emptiness.

We cannot feel our father now. His power courses through us,
yes, but he—the chest and cheek, the foot and palm,
the mouth of oracle—is calm. And we still seek
his meaning. “Feel me,” he said, and emphasized that word.
Should we have heard it as a plea for a caress—
a constant caress, since flesh to flesh was all that we
could do right if we would bless him?
The dying must feel the pressure of that question—
lying flat, turning cold from brow to heel—the hot
cowards there above protesting their love, and saying,
“What can we do? Are you all right?” While the wall opens
and the blue night pours through. “What can we do?
We want to do what’s right.”

“Lie down with me, and hold me, tight. Touch me. Be
with me. Feel with me. Feel me to do right.””

(May Swenson, in “Nature: Poems Old and New”, 1994)


“I Will Be Earth

I will be earth, you be the flower,
You have found my root, you are the rain,
I will be boat, and you the rower.
You rock me and toss me, you are the sea.
How be steady earth that is now a flood.
The root is the oar afloat where has blown our bud.
We will be desert, pure salt the seed.
Burn radiant love, born scorpion need.

(May Swenson, in “Nature: Poems Old and New”, 1994)


The Truth is Forced

Not able to be honest in person
I wish to be honest in poetry.
Speaking to you, eye to eye, I lie
because I cannot bear
to be conspicuous with the truth.
Saying it–all of it–would be
taking off my clothes.
I would forfeit my most precious properties:
distance, secrecy, privacy.
I would be exposed. And I would be
possessed. It would be an entire
surrender (to you, eye to eye).
You would examine me too closely.
You would handle me.
All your eyes would swarm me.
I’d be forever after hotly dressed
in your cloying, itching, greedy bees.
Whether you are one or two or many
it is the same. Really, I feel as if
one pair of eyes were a whole hive.
So I lie (eye to eye)
by leaving the core of things unvoiced
or else by offering a dummy
in place of myself.
One must be honest somewhere. I wish
to be honest in poetry.
With the written word.
Where I can say and cross out
and say over and say around
and say on top of and say in between
and say in symbol, in riddle,
in double meaning, under masks
of any feature, in the skins
of every creature.
And in my own skin, naked.
I am glad, indeed I dearly crave
to become naked in poetry,
to force the truth
through a poem,
which, when it is made, if real,
not a dummy, tells me
and then you (all or any, eye to eye)
my whole self,
the truth.

(May Swenson, in “Nature: Poems Old and New”, 1994)


Hearing the Wind at Night

I heard the wind coming,
transferred from tree to tree.
I heard the leaves
swish, wishing to be free

to come with the wind, yet wanting to stay
with the boughs like sleeves.
The wind was a green ghost.
Possessed of tearing breath

the body of each tree
whined, a whipping post,
then straightened and resumed
its vegetable oath.

I heard the wind going,
and it went wild.
Somewhere the forest threw itself
into tantrum like a child.

I heard the trees tossing
in punishment or grief,
then sighing, and soughing,
soothing themselves to sleep.

(May Swenson, in “Nature: Poems Old and New”, 1994)


Maurice Denis, “Landscape with Green Trees or Beech Trees in Kerduel”, 1893.
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