What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?: Collected Prose Poems by Robert Bly

Accountants hover over the earth like helicopters,
Dropping bits of paper engraved with Hegel's name.
Badgers carry the papers on their fur
To their den, where the entire family dies in the night.

A chorus girl stands for hours behind her curtains
Looking out at the street.
In a window of a trucking service
There is a branch painted white.
A stuffed baby alligator grips that branch tightly
To keep away from the dry leaves on the floor.

The honeycomb at night has strange dreams:
Small black trains going round and round--
Old warships drowning in the raindrop.

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

Some love to watch the sea bushes appearing at dawn,
To see night fall from the goose wings, and to hear
The conversations the night sea has with the dawn.

If we can't find Heaven, there are always bluejays.
Now you know why I spent my twenties crying.
Cries are required from those who wake disturbed at dawn.

Adam was called in to name the Red-Winged
Blackbirds, the Diamond Rattlers, and the Ring-Tailed
Raccoons washing God in the streams at dawn.

Centuries later, the Mesopotamian gods,
All curls and ears, showed up; behind them the Generals
With their blue-coated sons who will die at dawn.

Those grasshopper-eating hermits were so good
To stay all day in the cave; but it is also sweet
To see the fenceposts gradually appear at dawn.

People in love with the setting stars are right
To adore the baby who smells of the stable, but we know
That even the setting stars will disappear at dawn.

This burning in the eyes, as we open doors,
This is only the body burdened down with leaves,
The opaque flesh, heavy as November grass,
Growing stubbornly, triumphant even at midnight.

And another day disappears into the cliff,
And the Eskimos come to greet it with sharp cries--
The black water swells up over the new hole.
The grave moves forward from its ambush,

Moving over the hills on black feet,
Living off the country,
Leaving dogs and sheep murdered where it slept;
Some shining thing, inside, that has served us well

Shakes its bamboo bars--
It may be gone before we wake . . .

Sometimes a man can't say
What he . . . A wind comes
And his doors don't rattle. Rain
Comes and his hair is dry.

There's a lot to keep inside
And a lot to . . . Sometimes shame
Means we. . . Children are cruel,
He's six and his hands. . .

Even Hamlet kept passing
The king praying
And the king said,
"There was something. . . ."

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house ...
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.

The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.

The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust ...
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.

Tell me about the train that people say got buried
By the avalanche--was it snow?--It was
In Colorado, and no one saw it happen.
There was smoke from the engine curling up

Lightly through fir tops, and the engine sounds.
There were all those people reading--some
From Thoreau, some from Henry Ward Beecher.
And the engineer smoking and putting his head out.

I wonder when that happened. Was it after
High School, or was it the year we were two?
We entered this narrow place, and we heard the sound
Above us--the train couldn't move fast enough.

It isn't clear what happened next. Are you and I
Still sitting there in the train, waiting for the lights
To go on? Or did the real train get really buried;
So at night a ghost train comes out and keeps going...

(For Donald Hall)

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won't say much more.
Let's wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.

There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?

It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.

I go to the door often.
Night and summer. Crickets
lift their cries.
I know you are out.
You are driving
late through the summer night.

I do not know what will happen.
I have no claim on you.
I am one star
you have as guide; others
love you, the night
so dark over the Azores.

You have been working outdoors,
gone all week. I feel you
in this lamp lit
so late. As I reach for it
I feel myself
driving through the night.

I love a firmness in you
that disdains the trivial
and regains the difficult.
You become part then
of the firmness of night,
the granite holding up walls.

There were women in Egypt who
supported with their firmness the stars
as they revolved,
hardly aware
of the passage from night
to day and back to night.

I love you where you go
through the night, not swerving,
clear as the indigo
bunting in her flight,
passing over two
thousand miles of ocean.

Do you remember the night Abraham first saw
The stars? He cried to Saturn: "You are my Lord!"
How happy he was! When he saw the Dawn Star,

He cried, ""You are my Lord!" How destroyed he was
When he watched them set. Friends, he is like us:
We take as our Lord the stars that go down.

We are faithful companions to the unfaithful stars.
We are diggers, like badgers; we love to feel
The dirt flying out from behind our back claws.

And no one can convince us that mud is not
Beautiful. It is our badger soul that thinks so.
We are ready to spend the rest of our life

Walking with muddy shoes in the wet fields.
We resemble exiles in the kingdom of the serpent.
We stand in the onion fields looking up at the night.

My heart is a calm potato by day, and a weeping
Abandoned woman by night. Friend, tell me what to do,
Since I am a man in love with the setting stars.

— The End —