Monday, February 23, 2009

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov is a poet who died in 1997. She was born in England, but lived in Washington at the end of her life. I've been going through some of her poems lately. I keep thinking about one that I read a few days ago:

Empty Hands

In the night foundations crumble.
God's image was contrived
of beaten alloy. A thin clatter
as it tumbles from its niche.

Parts of your body ache,
each separate, ominous,
linked only by emplacement within
a worn skin. Convictions

wheel and scatter,
white birds affrighted.

In time you sleep. But wake
to the same sensation: adrift
mid-ocean, frayed mooring ropes
trailing behind you, swirling.

Yet when you open
unwilling eyes, you see the day
is sunlit. You walk
down to the real shore.

Over the city,
a scum of brown. But it is quiet
among the trees, grass
strewn with first-fallen leaves,
a sheen of dew. The past night

remains with you, but your attention
is drawn away from it
to taste the autumn light, falling
into your empty hands.

Further on in the book of her poems, I found one that seems like a companion piece to this, yet they weren't intentionally linked in any way, except for her own repeated motif.

A Gift

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

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