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Dust

by Allen Grossman


(Ars Poetica)

This is Spring for the last time. And poetry
Is dead — as when the Great Mind of the world
Or the mind in fact of the one man or woman
Among us who can speak has suppressed a momentous
Theme and nothing comes to mind in its place
And nothing is heard and nothing is seen
And the field is empty. Or it is like
An old ballad written down, or foot prints
Under the ice of time: the trace of one
Foot fall and in that print another print
Of foot falling and perished in the air
(And thus began the motive of our endless
Patience — the waiting for the sound a thousand years
Of the one foot fall and to hear it again
To hear it is the reason of our art
By which the greatest poet makes the deepest silence
In the empty heart of the strongest song);
But in earth remained the writing of the path
Of two — human, or partly human — who were
Walking on a bare flat plain at the dark hour
The far mountain threw down this dust. Now read
The story of the day or night the far
Mountain threw down the dust and the two wrote
And wrote (the one following the other across
The plain) until they were home. And then lay
Down in one another’s arms and the dust
Covered them and the hot rains sealed the scroll
With the seven seals of oblivion.
In time the fires of the mountain cooled.
And a lens of ice began the gathering of
This light by which we read (the two of us),
Which is now a large light, a love of light,
As one might follow with the eyes alone
The words of a song that was written down,
Already written under the ice of time,
An ancient path across a bare flat plain,
Our sentence to the end. — What mercy of heaven,
Then, has sent these signs of the slaughtered dead
To unknot the tongue? There are so many unlaid
Ghosts in the world. Surely, one among them,
Not yet inconsolable, will let us hear
(A young one who is still patient with us
And eagerly descants upon the momentous theme)
A sound of foot fall — human, or partly human —
Out of the empty heart of the long forgotten
Composing the silence of the strongest song:
“Always like a new husband await the night,
And like a bride the rising of the light,”
Who wakens and walks out into the field at dawn
After a dream haunted by weeping animals
To find the patient spider has been brilliantly
At work and left a web articulate with dew,
Like mind a fragile theater of light,
A consolation to all of us who breathe
(And some, perhaps, of those who have no breath)
This Spring for the last time, the foot fall of
Summer, long awaited, passing toward our death.

 

Allen Grossman’s poem “Dust” was written for the reception by the poet of the Sheaffer-PEN New England Award for Literary Excellence. (1987)


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