Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Design of a House

Except in idea, perfection is as wild
as light; there is no hand laid on it.
But the house is a shambles
unless the vision of its perfection
upholds it like stone.

More probable: the ideal
of its destruction:
cloud of fire prefiguring
its disappearance.

Where value there is
is assumed;
like a god, thehouse elects its omens;
because it is, I desire it should be
-white, its life intact in it,
among trees.

Love has conceived a house,
and out of its labor
brought its likeness
-the emblem of desire, continuing
though the flesh falls away.

We've come round again
to short days and long nights;
time goes;
the clocks barely keep up;
a spare dream of summer
is kept
alive in the house:

the Queen Anne's lace
green beginning to bloom,
tufted, upfurling-

in this winter's memory
more clear than ever in summer,
cold paring away excess:

the single blooming random
in the summer's abundance
of its kind, in high relief
above the clover and grass
of the fiel, unstill
an instant,
the day having come upon it,
green and white
in as much light as ever was.

Opened, white, at the solstice
of its becoming, then the flower
forgets its growing;
is still;

dirt is its paradigm-
and this memory's seeing,
a cold wind keening the outline.

Winter nights the house sleeps,
a dry seedhead in the snow
falling and fallen, the white
and dark and depth of it, continuing
slow impact of silence.
The dark
rooms hold our heads on pillows, waiting
day, through the snow falling and fallen
in the darkness between inconsecutive
dreams. The brain burrows in its earth
and sleeps,
trusting dawn, though the sun's
light is a light without precedent,
never proved ahead of its coming, waited for
by the law that hope has made it.

What do you intend?
Drink blook
and speak, old ghosts. I don't
hear you. What has it amounted to
-the unnegotiable accumulation
of your tears? Your expenditure
has purchased no reprieve. Your
failed wisdom shards among the
down-going atoms of the moment.

History goes blind and in darkness;
neither sees nor is seen, nor is known except as a carrion
marked with unintelligible wounds:
dragging its dead body, living,
yet to be born, it moves heavily
to its glories. It tramples
the little towns, forgets their names.

If reason was all, reason
would not exist-the will
to reason accounts for it;
it's not reason that chooses
to live; the seed doesn't swell
in its husk by reason, but loves
itself, obeys light which is
its own thought and argues the leaf
in secret; love articulates
the choice of life in fact; life
chooses life because it is
alive; what lives didn't begin dead,
nor sun's fire commence in ember.

Love foresees a jointure
composing a house, a marriage
of contraries, compendium
of opposites in equilibrium.
This morning the sun
came up before the moon set;
Shadows were stripped from the house
like burnt rags, the sky turning
blue behind the clear moon,
day and night moving to day.

Let severances be as dividing
budleaves around the flower
-woman and child enfolded, chosen.
It's a dying begun, not lightly,
the taking up of this love
whose legacy is its death.

This is a love poem for you, Tanya-

among wars, among the brutal forfeitures
of time, in this house, among its latent fires,
among all that honesty must see, I accept
your dying, and love you: nothing mitigates
-and for our Mary, chosen by the blind
hungering of our blood, precious and periled
in her happy mornings; whose tears are mine.

There's still a degree of sleep
the vast empty dream I slept in
as a child
sometimes contained a chaos, tangled
like fishline snarled in hooks-
sometimes a hook, whetted, severe,
the barbed darkness to a point;
sometimes I seemed merely to be falling.

And I have dreamed
of the morning coming in
like a bird through the window
not burdened by a thought,

the light a singing
as I hoped.

It comes in and sings
on the corner of the white washstand,

among coleus stems and roots
in a clear green bottle
on the black tabletop
beneath the window,

under the purple coleus leaves,
among spearing
green philodendron leaves,
on the white washstand:

a small yellow bird with black wings;
darting in and out.

To imagine the thoughtlessness
of a thoughtless thing
is useless.
The mind must sing
of itself to keep awake.

Love has visualized a house,
and out of its expenditure
fleshed the design
at this cross ways
of consciousness and time:

its form and growth
come to light in it;

croplands, gardens,
are of its architecture,

labor its realization;

solstice is the height
of its consciousness,

thicket a figuration
of its waking;

plants and stars are made convergent
in its windows;

cities we have gone to and come back
are the prospect of its doorways.

And there's a city it dreams of:
salt-white beside the water.

Snow and the house's white make a white
the black swifts may come back to.

- From "Collected Poems: 1957-1982" by Wendell Berry