Window to the South
Vivian Smallwood
Published by the author
Mobile, Alabama

    All good things must come to an end. Last night's poem was the last bestowed upon me by Vivian Smallwood. However,. Another poet plans to send me her work but I haven't yet received it, so I'll fill in with others until hers arrive.
    Naturally, I'm curious about Vivian Smallwood. She told me that she had never had any children--only her three nieces, ViVi, Mary Ina, and Sally--and I don't believe she ever married. I have the impression that she lived with her twin sister all the days of her life. Yet there was obviously a major man in her life, and evidently, he went on for years. His loss seems to have been a life-altering event for her
    Vivian Smallwood wrote other poems, but these are all that are in her two books, and that are presently available to me.



I shall not close my window to a night
   So filled with gentle sounds, nor brush away
The friendly dark with artificial light.
    Careless of what her creatures have to say.
If crickets still have time for cricket-talk
    I still have time to listen. If the bird
Wakes on his bough above my garden-walk
   I am not willing he should sing unheard.

It is enough to lock the winter out,
    To turn away the north wind and the cold.
They too may have some things to talk about,
    And some night when the years have made me bold
I may yet wrap my scarf beneath my chin,
    Unlatch the door and ask the winter in.


Know this: that even when the dying sun
   In its last desperate hour fills the sky,
And the proud planets, shaken and undone,
  Are caught into the tumult and the cry--
Know this: That God Himself is not at bay
  And time without beginning has no end.
New stars are burning on the Milky Way,
  New worlds are shaping on the cosmic wind.

And all the things we love, however lost,
  The road, the house, the orchard and the hill,
The field of yellow daisies and the frost,
  Their purpose served, will have a purpose still
And time and time again will take new station
  In an eternal cycle of creation.

                      MOON WALK

Here lies the last man, on a blackened beach
 Among the rotted weed and crumbling shell
The broken, scattered hands no longer reach,
  The naked jaw has nothing left to tell.
And with him lies the promise of his birth.
  There will be no more like him--no, not one
To sail the seas and plow the willing earth
  And build his shining towers toward the sun.

There may yet be a second miracle
  And on the troubled waters, as before
A frail, dividing cell may feel the pull
  Of countless tides until it finds a shore.
But man lies here, the last of all his race,
  And none like him will rise to take his place.

                     THE TRAVELER

What was it like on that small blue star
At the edge of the Milky Way?

Oh, there were rocks and trees and sand
And hills and valleys and level land.
The seasons changed with the changing sun,
And the rivers ran to the sea.

So much color and so much light!
You should have seen the sky at night,
You should have seen the sky at dawn.
There were puddles of rain on an April lawn
And daisies brightened the fields of May.
Lichens grew on the ancient stone
And gulls flew over the bay.

And marvelous things were done by men,
Strange and marvelous things.
They built their towns at the water's edge,
And they carved their roads on the mountain ledge,
And they gave their engines wings.

They bridged the rivers and tunneled rock,
They captured the waterfall,
And they measured time with a ticking clock
And a calender on the wall.
Yes, this was the strangest thing of all--
They stood in the heart of the infinite
And tried to measure it, bit by bit,
With nothing more than a ticking clock
And a calender on the wall.



This love that is as much a part of me
As flesh and blood and bone--this love that wakes
Like an old wound each time the weather breaks
Or the clouds gather, and will not let me be--
This love that is as wild and strange and free
As sea-birds, and as dull and full of aches
As an old woman nibbling nutless cakes
And grumbling at the tea leaves in her tea--

Being so much a part of what I am,
Being the thing it is, this love must pass,
And you will wake at night to hear the slam
Of shutters and the whispering of the grass
And, lonelier than you ever thought you'd be,
Will weep for love, who never wept for me.



Autumn comes briefly to this coastal town*
Where lagging summer wears her welcome out
And spring and winter play at hide-and-seek.
With barely time to button up her smock,
She spreads her brushes and her paints about
And splashes at the canvas of the week.
And what a world of browns she has in stock!
Drab brown of water oak, the silver-brown
Of reeds beside a honey-colored creek,
Amber of grasses drying in the sun,
Nut-brown of hickory, bronze of sycamore,
Sienna, russet, copper-color, dun--
Who would have thought there were so many browns?
She leaves untouched the live oak and the pine,
Camellia, boxwood and the lank wild cherry,
But suddenly and joyously she flings
A wealth of red and gold on fading things.
Crepe myrtles blaze along the boulevard,
The tallow trees are miracles of light,
And every dogwood holds its flock of leaves,
With scarlet wings already poised for flight.

                            THE FIRST CRICKET

Listen and you will hear him, over and over and over,
The wandering child of the shadows, crying against the frost,
Tossing on leaves of darkness, drowning in seas of clover,
Telling it over and over, "All's lost", and "All's lost".

Oh desolate creature of midnight, my friend and my brother,
Born to a useless foreknowledge that summer will pass,
Doomed to a witless foretelling, lost in a smother
Of darkness, a tangle of moonlight, a surge of grass.


All up and down the Boulevard
And in and out the hedges
The thrushes vow their sweetest vows
The sparrows pledge their pledges,
And high above the chimney-tops,
Among the pine cones swinging,
The mockingbird who sang all night
Is still awake and singing.

Well, I may yet see forty springs
Before my springs are over,
But many a dove with rosy feet
Will sidle through the clover
And many a redbird guard his nest
In cedar-green abysses
Before I see another day
As beautiful as this.


Now God and I together
We crossed the fields today.
Each burdened with a sorrow
We walked a common way.

Through thickets cool and shady
We climbed a slope of hill.
The rested at the summit
As friends and neighbors will.

And then like friends and neighbors,
Who each has suffered loss,
He helped me shift my burden.
I helped Him lift His cross.


A mighty tumult filled the skies,
Earth shuddered, and the sun fell back.
Before uncomprehending eyes,
The buttercups turned black.
Against uncomprehending ears
The thunder of the earthquake rolled,
And all the vast, astonished herd
Was stricken by the cold.

This happened. This is not a tale
Torn from a science fiction book.
There was a day like any other day.
A meadow and a brook,
And deep amid the buttercups
The drowsy mammoths grazed at noon,
Unmindful of the strange new star
That blazed beneath the sun.

Now, in a new-established north,
In regions where no flower grows,
The body of a frozen brute
Emerges from the snows.
The glazed eyes wear their horror still,
The anguished brow records its doom,
And sill the rigid jaws are locked
Upon a yellow bloom.

The Eskimo beside his fire
And I among my grass
Observe the seasons come and go
And name them as they pass,
Unmindful that a strange new star
Is racing through the Milky Way,
Not yet a shaft of fire by night,
A shaft of smoke by day.


Stone by stone, leaf by leaf,
I must learn this way of grief
Lest a path I yet may choose
Should lead me back in thinner shoes,
Through tangled brier and twisted bough,
To walk the road that I walk now.

Leaf by leaf, stone by stone,
Till each inch of this is known!
I may spare my body pain
When I pass this way again.


I knelt before His cradle
    Long Christmases ago
And worshipped Him with tinsel
    And colored lights and snow.

In summer, when the roses
    Were pink and white and red,
I wove them into garlands
    And placed them on His head.

Tinsel for a baby,
    Flowers for a prince....
What else shall I give Him
    Besides gold and frankincense?


You may chain your love with a silver chain,

You may fetter her feet with gold.
But love is little and fleet as rain.
She will be hard to hold.

Love is as light as a thistle seed
That blows across your hand,
And wild she runs as an April weed
Over the unplowed land.

Fashion her cage with jeweled bars
And bind her feet with song,
But love is as free as the flying stars.
You will not hold her long.


I have not learned the speech of birds.
Nor can they fashion into words
Whatever panic brings them here.
The air is busy with their fear,
The sky is heavy with their wings,
But what the danger is that stings
Their tiny throats to sudden fright?
What peril sets their wings in flight,
I cannot guess. The evil walks
Among the dry and broken stalks
Of last year's weeds. The birds beseech,
But I have never learned their speech
And I can only share their fear....
What strange new grief awaits me here?


How could we manage without the birds?
How could we know that spring had come
If suddenly, all the hills were dumb
And nothing stirred on the ragged lawn
    But a leaf that the wind had brushed?

Suppose that the blue jay made no noise
When the kitten stalked through the flower-bed
And the green snake lifted his narrow head,
Suppose that the sparrow slept through dawn
     And the mockingbird were hushed.

How could we hope for winter to leave
Without a robin to tug his sleeve,
Or look for summer to build her nest
Without the down of a robin's breast?
Think of an April with never a wing--
How could we ever be sure of spring?


Between my work and me there lie

A patch of earth, a patch of sky.

The patch of earth is mostly hill,
With maples standing bare and chill,
But in the sheltered hollow
The goldenrod and daisies grow,
And overhead the wild geese go
Where I can never follow.

Now God be thanked for earth and sky
And time to watch as I go by.

      Poems For a Little Girl

She is a lovely lady.
In her small face, I see
More beauty than a generous earth
Has ever shown to me.

Fairer than buds in April,
Fairer than leaves in June,
And quieter in sleeping
Than frost beneath the moon.

 She Is a Lovely Lady

She is a lovely lady,
  And God to her has given
More gold than all his hillsides,
    More blue than all his heaven.

Nor wing from out the Northland,
    Nor wing from out the south
Was ever curved more sweetly
   Than the kiss that is her mouth.

God loved the little rabbit,
  And made him soft and sleek,
But oh! the downy lashes
  He laid upon her cheek!


My heart being what it is, a sturdy thing
Of locks and cables, geared to usefulness
Will function as it has from spring to spring,
Though you from spring to spring have loved me less.
The rivers of my blood will make their way
Through deep, accustomed channels as before.
Where once proud armadas tossed the spray
The barges now will move along the shore.

The pyramid of grief is build on sand,
Not on the granite acres of my bone.
The monstrous shadow falling on the land
Will carve no mountain, wear away no stone,
And few will notice on the eroding clay
The splendid writings of an earlier day.


See! I have put you wholly out of my mind,
Emptied myself completely of desire.
I have not lagged with those who lagged behind
To warm their bones before a dying fire
And talk with shadows. Having loved and lost
I have no wish to love again
By begging silly favors of a ghost
And trudging after rainbows in the rain.
Nor think you that, because I vowed
A million vows and meant them every one,
Have wrapped my dreams around me like a shroud
And drawn the shades between me and the sun.
Holding against my heart for safer keeping
Stars and the deepening dusk and lilies weeping.


  When, in the urgent noontime of desire,
I ventured forth, with neither hat nor glove,
A foolish woman straying from the fire
And blinking in the sunlight of your love,
I never thought the shadow at my feet
Could lengthen so, it was so small a thing.
I never thought the day would be so fleet
Nor wondered what a far-off night would bring.

But night has come, too bitter-black for frost,
And here I stand, ill-dressed in summer sheer,
Upon the highest hill my path has crossed
Beneath the coldest sky of all the year.
And here I stay, with no place else to go,
No stars above me and no lamps below.


Not even in my dreams I see your face.
Not even when the longest day is done
And the last hill befriended by the sun
Lengthens into a secret, shadowed place;
When voices that I loved a little space
Trouble the darkness, and the shapeless stone
Assumes a shape and being not its own--
Not even then do you seek your accustomed place.

I have forgiven with what grace I could
That you are gone. I have not cursed the day,
And none can say I charged you with my pain.
But I have not forgiven nor understood
Why even in my dreams you turn away
Lest I shoud look into your eyes again.

          FOUR SONNETS - II

Not all who kissed and clung and went away
Were so unkind. Not all who left my side
Have had too much of anger or of pride
To come again, as birds return in May
To the known bough, the remembered spray.
And still they come, unwelcomed and denied,
Where the year's flowering grasses lean to hide
The broken shell, the feather in the clay.

Oh, not for these I summoned forth the spring
And set the wild white plum upon the hill.
I seek among the uninvited guests
One stormy throat, one swift, defiant wing,
And know for whom the grieving wind leaves still
One nest intact among the scattered nests.


Having no heart except this heart you see,
No love except the love which I have shown
And which you find unworthy of your own,
I cannot bargain with you. Let it be.
There is no richer, greater thing in me
Hidden away like some precious stone
Against the day when your full price is known,
And known the measure of my poverty.

I know the heart is frivolous and dull
For you have so assayed it, and the worth
Of love from such a heart I understand,
Although one time you found them beautiful
And I was richer than the Queens of earth
Pouring my silly pennies in your hand.


         FOUR SONNETS - IV

The value of my love is what you will.
It is no more nor less than you require,
Whether it is a jewel shot with fire
Or graying ashes blown across the sill.
Whether the heart be wide as heaven's own hill,
Wondrously starred, or narrow as the brier
That nags the flesh, it is as you desire
And what it is is your possession still.

As much your own as mine, as much a part
Of what you are as it is part of me,
And worth no more than it is worth to you.
Devaluate the love, despise the heart,
But you must share in my catastrophe
For if I am beggared, you are beggared, too.


No man is free. Each woman wears the scars
Of chains upon her heart, and in the night
Must wake to see the bars against the light
And weep for something locked beyond the bars.
The walls are guarded, and the corridors
Lead blindly back for those who think of flight.
Love sets no door ajar, no key in sight.
Love opens up no highway to the stars.

Love is not a freedom, but a new chain caught
Against the old, and shaped to greater pain,
A certain bondage, terrible and real.
Release cannot be bargained for nor bought,
And he whose fingers seek to break the chain
Will break his heart before he bends the steel.


Heavy with stars, beset by winds of space,
Worn by vast time and torn by strange debris,
The web of night swings freely in its place
Between the gateposts of eternity.
And not so wide and not so far away,
Complete with epic ages, good and ill,
Another universe will swing by day
Between the pines tree and the window sill.

What lies beyond swift Mercury and Mars
I cannot guess. I am not even sure
What loves and hates, what cataclysmic wars,
What tenuous peace occur in miniature
On watery, bright worlds that hang at dawn
Above a green infinity of lawn.


Redbud, redbud on the hill,
Wild plum in the hollow!
February's with us still
But March is sure to follow.

February, bleak and chill,
Is fraying at the edges
And thorny quince and daffodil
Are brightening up the hedges.

Now let the north wind shout at will
His brash defiant phrases.
Today, I picked a daffodil,
Tomorrow, there'll be daisies!


 God bless the creatures of the field,
The sparrow and the mouse.
Give each of them his store of grain,
Give each his little house.

Let none be far from home tonight,
The cricket nor the thrush.
Make clear the passage down the wind,
The pathway through the brush.

Make safe the covert in the weeds,
The nest beneath the bough.
Let none of all Thy little ones
Be lost or frightened now.

Give each his wall against the world,
His roof aginst the sky,
And hide the fledgling in Thy hand
Until the storm goes by.



This is the season of fields laid bare
Under a bare bleak breadth of sky.
April has long since hurried by
And Autumn, binding her leaf-brown hair,
Paused but to strip the laboring roots

Of the last gold grain and the final fruits,
Paused as she bound her leaf-brown hair
Only to say good-bye.

All that was sowed in the golden days,
Seed of alughter and seed of tears,
Lifted in summer their thin green spears,
Flaunted their fruits in October's haze--
Fruits of sorrow and fruits of joy
That nothing could change and nothing destro--
Fruit of laughter on slender sprasy,
And ever the fruit of tears.

This is the season when those who plod
The furrowed fields that are left to them
May touch their lips to the goblets brim
And warm their hearts at the fires of God,
Glad for the grain that was theirs to reap.
Glad for the blessing of rest and sleep.
Warming their hearts at the fires of God
And giving their thanks to Him.


I know a green and secret place
Under the phlox and Queen Anne's lace,
Where caterpillars creep and crawl
And have no fear of me at all.

There in a land of little things
The gray moth folds her dusty wings,
The beetle stumbles from his lair.
Not sorry that he sees me there.

Down avenues of light and shade,
The ants march proudly on parade
And roly-poly bugs, uncurled,
Invite me in to share their world.

If I come back when I am grown
And walk across the field alone,
It well may be that I shall pass
Unheeding through the summer grass,
Too tall to note the sudden hush
Of voices in the underbrush,
Too tall to hear, beneath the phlox,
The clicking of unnumbered locks
Were tiny creatures dart about
In frantic haste to shut me out.


An Autumn stillness lies across the land
And dusk comes gently. Sparrows wheel and fly
Across a blue enclosure where the sky
Darkens above the pear trees. By and by
There will be dead leaves piled upon the sand.

Come quickly then, beloved. Where I stand
A thread of sunlight lingers on the hill
And goldenrod is lifted. Crickets shrill
And fields are bleak and bare, But I have still
The last of summer trembling in my hand.

A mist like winter creeps across the land,
But I have held my fingers in the sun
And caught its drooping petals one by one,
And these I give to you, goldenrod and sun,
The last of summer trembling in my hand.


Spring after spring the wild plum blooming
On the untended hill,
And in the hollow, spring after spring,
Violets blooming still.

Only here in my heart, unshaken,
Winter broods on her nest,
Turning over with sullen care
The stones beneath her breast.

         IN THE GARDEN

In flower-hung cathedral,
Down clover-scented aisle,
The ants, unblessed and busy,
Are racing single-file.

Beneath the jeweled arches
Of bridal wreath and fern
They hurry toward tomorrow
With desperate concern.

Not side by side like brothers,
Not two by two they fare,
But each alone and burdened
With more than he can bear.


Upon this hill laid bare to sun
The bee attends the flowers,
And by the toppled chimney stone
The shadow tells the hours.

Domestic as the kitchen clock
That measured out our day
Before the foe bypassed the lock
And found a secret way.

The spider who had claimed the wall
Now claims the sapling pine,
And angles for his evening meal
With silver reel and line.

The mouse finds other store of grain,
The sparrow other eaves,
The cricket shakes his tambourine
Beneath the maple leaves,

As heedless of his brother's shout
As we were heedless then
Before the enemy without
Became the foe within.


There are jungles in your eyes,
Green rain forests, heavy-hung
With orchids, where the serpent's tongue
Flickers across the sultry day
And storms of butterflies
Gather beneath acacia skies.

Half-awake and half-asleep,
You crouch upon the window sill,
A thousand thousand years beyond
The dim beginnings of your race.
Nothing splendid waits for you,
Nothing perilous and new.
You watch the shadow-minutes pass
Across the uneventful grass
And lift a fragile, silky paw
To speed the slow retreat of noon

But something of that time and place,
A world away, is written still
Beneath your lazy, narrowed lids,
And in the jungles of your eyes
The yellow storms, descending, break
And scatter, while the dappled snake
Uncoils among the dappled weeds
And temporarily concedes
To naked fang and naked claw.


Once long ago, I made a prayer,
But who was I, to pray?
And who were you, that God should care
Whether or not you went away?

And yet I looked into His face
And prayed with might and main,
God yawned and set a star in place.
I shall not bother Him again.


I built my castle high upon the sand,
Dug the foundations deep, with my own hand
Raised every shining rafter. Straight and true
The towers rise, and windows catch the blue
Of far-flung waters. I have loved this day,
But now the first star hangs above the bay
And night comes quickly. I have built on sand
When just beyond the rocks and wooded land,
And I am frightened. I cannot pretend.
Lord, I beseech Thee, let there be no wind!

           LAST HARVEST

Now comes another year of bitter fruit
and scanty harvest. Every golden root
Retrieves its sap, and every blade and leaf
Cries to the wind. Against the ancient grief
Of wide bare sky and wide dark-furrowed field
The goldenrod lifts high its useless shield
And knows itself defeated.
                                 Wild geese crossed
Against the air at dawn, and one by one
The thin leaves caught the colors of the sun.
How carefully we wrought against this hour,
Planted the seed and tended the flower,
And loved our long, green acres! How we dared
Defy the forest's thrust, and faced the bared
Dark hatred of the stone! But not again
Will hope be born of sun and April rain
And warm earth quick with promise.
                                 Fields may lie
Fallow from spring to spring, and orchards cry
Beneath their weight of branches. Vines may fall
Barren and humbled from a broken wall
And, uncontested now, the weeds attain
This land we loved. We shall not dream again.


 Let us go down the old road
Where the wild plum thickets grow
And look for a handful of little, lost stars.
There will be stars, I know.

Tangled among the black boughs,
Silver and green and gold.
We shall take them there, in a grey dusk,
All that our hands can hold,

For he who gathers a handful of stars
Has much to call his own,
Though he comes no more to the old road
Unless he comes alone.


The sparrow who has come to dine
Upon his noonday crust
Inspects me from a twig of pine
With resolute distrust.

Unwilling even now to own
That I am friend or foe,
He watches me from his safety zone
And waits for me to go.

          THE LAST MAN

Here lies the last man, on a blackened beach
Among the rotted weed and crumbling shell
The broken, scattered hands no longer reach,
The naked jaw has nothing left to tell,
And with him lies the promise of his birth.
There will be no more like him---no, not one
To sail the seas and plow the willing earth
And build his shining towers toward the sun.

There may yet be a second miracle
And on the troubled waters, as before,
A frail, dividing cell may feel the pull
Of countless tides until it finds a shore.
But man lies here, the last of all his race,
And none like him will rise to take his place.

              ON THE BEACH

As soon as we cross the road, the water is there,
Breaking against the dunes with a friendly sound.
The grey gull tips his wings in the salty air
And the sea oats bow with wind but hold their ground.

As long as we stand and watch, the waves come in,
Flinging their bits of shell on the sand to dry,
Then back to the sea and back to shore again,
Urged by a hidden moon in the August sky.

But we sometimes have doubts of their permanence.
We are never completely sure they are there to stay.
There are things that have no tense but the present tense
And the minute you turn your back they go away.


A strange and breathless thing it is
That he is mine and I am his.
A circumstance of age and race,
A miracle of time and place,
And we who might have lived and died
A world apart are side by side.

The candles of my heart are lit
Every time I think of it.


There is no need to go back.
The road has grown over
With beggarweed laced in black
And patches of clover,
And the willows have crept up to meet
The road's very edge,
Thrusting their tentative feet
Through the golden sedge.

It is too late to return,
Too late to remember
Flag lilies tangled in fern,
And the firefly's ember
Moving from bog to bog,
And the daisies winking,
And even the wise old frog
By the wayside blinking.

You strayed from the golden track--
You were ever a rover--
But it is too late to go back
For the road has grown over
And the willows have crept from the marshes,
And after a while
There will be nothing but willows
Mile after mile.


Rain tonight on Washington, rain on Georgia,
Rain on the rough, chipped bricks of the patio
And the hanging basket of fern.
Rain on the rubber plantations of far Cambodia
Near a place called Phnom Penh.

Heavy, heavy hangs over my head the rain,
The swaying fern and the wild, wet boughs of the cherry.
Heavy, heavy hangs over my heart the night.
I lie awake, alone,
Counting a thousand sheep and a thousand more--
One, two, three, four, five . . .

It is morning now on the other side of the world.
The gray dawn drips from the eaves of a leaf-thatched hut,
The wet light slips through a tangle of weeds and grass
On a nameless, numbered hill.
Oh merciless rain, be quiet! Oh wind, be still!
Let me count my sheep.
Heavy, heavy hangs over my heart the dawn  


I came at last, by long unlovely ways
   As I had always known that I must come,
    To find the house deserted, and the plum
Pressing against the pane its tangled sprays.

I had not really hoped to find you there
    Though you had sworn to come, and though I stood
    Until the last brown sparrow sought the wood
And all the twilight skies were cold and bare.

Just why you came too late, or not at all,
    I did not know, nor shall I ever know,
    But I was sorry when I turned to go
And lingered, listening, lest you should call.


Here is a place you never knew.
Here, in a corner of my mind,
I find a space not filled with you.
The silence and the dark are kind,
And the old ghosts that linger here,
Cobwebbed and friendly in the gloom,
Are not the dreadful things they were
When I first locked them in this room.

Here is a joy you did not share,
Here is a grief you may not claim,
And here a love lies cold and bare,
A love that never knew your name.
Oh, I am glad of quietness!
I lock the door and turn the key
And kneel in darkness, lest you guess
What has become of me!


There is a road that some day you will take.
I cannot tell you of it, though I know
You will learn laughter and your heart will break
And love will find you everywhere you go.

And I can promise stars at night, and crickets
Making small music where the grasses bend,
Long winter dusks, and sometimes wild plum thickets
Loosing their silver treasure to the wind.

I cannot tell you where tomorrow leads,
I am not even sure of yesterday,
But listen for the singing in the weeds
And watch for wild white plum along the way.


Once, in an August dawn,
I closed my heart upon
A thought so clear and fine
I marveled it was mine.

Now, on a winter night,
I hold it to the light
And find the wonder leap
That this is mine to keep.


If I should die tomorrow,
If I should die tonight,
The neighbors would all sorrow
And lay me out in white.

And one would pluck a lily
For me to be a-wearing,
And wouldn't I look silly

With everybody staring!


She is a lovely lady,
And God to her has given
More gold than all his hillsides,
More blue than all his Heaven.

Not any leaf or petal

That falls upon the ground
Was ever curved more sweetly
Than the fingers of her hand,

Nor wing from out the Northland
Nor wing from out the South
Was ever shaped more sweetly
Than the kiss that is her mouth.

God loved the little rabbit
And made him soft and sleek,
But oh, the downy lashes
He laid upon her cheek!


I am turning it over
to wort and clover,
To plum and cherry
And wild strawberry,
I shall not bicker with Queen Anne's lace
For half an acre of garden space.

Since I cannot tame it
The thistle may claim it
And daisies in session
May vote for aggression.
Rain lilies, windflowers, stray daffodil
May slip through the hedges and stand where
     they will.

Cicada and cricket
May shout from the thicket,
And mockingbird quarrel
With blue jay and squirrel.
The lizard and green snake may creep from their lairs,
But I have surrendered. The battle is theirs.


Nobody knew how the faded water
   Dreamed of the tide and the out-bound fishing fleet.
Nobody heard at dawn the snatches of music
    Timed to the wave's advance and retreat.

Nobody guessed at all how the reedy shallows
    Stirred with the dipping nets and the dripping spray,
Laughter and voices blown from the fishing vessels
   Somewhere along the rim of a golden bay.

Lonely among the ferns and the frail moss-roses,
    Lonely among the marshes far from the sea,
A lost brook sang its songs of the open water
    And nobody heard it, nobody knew but me.


I too have seen the far side of the moon,
Its rocks, its craters and its ancient rills.
Through perilous, black night and blazing noon
I too have walked among the windless hills.
Encased in time, and bound by all its laws,
I have explored a barren, timeless land
And gathered from its crevices and flaws
A dozen stones, a pocketful of sand.

And I return from the edge of space,
But no flags wave for me, and no drums beat.
The light of other skies is on my face,
The dust of other worlds is on my feet,
But I shall take my pebbles to the grave,
And none will ever know that I was brave.


Not every mountain is an Everest.
This bit of hillside sloping from my door,
Whose yellow daisies bloom and sparrows nest,
Is but a slant of earth and nothing more.
This lazy creek that ambles on its way
Through sun and shadow for a crooked mile
Seeks but the tranquil margin of the bay,
Not every strip of water is the Nile.

Yet Nature in her most expansive moods
Has dug no river bed with greater care
Than this small gully twisting through the woods
Among the wild blue flags and maidenhair,
Has carved no mountain peak with fonder skill
Than this green slope, this daisy-scattered hill.


Each year my absent-minded heart
Is startled once again to see
Narcissus marching on a lawn
Where only winter ought to be.

Though fifty springs have come and gone
I still am taken unaware
By any redbud tree that flings
Its gay confetti on the air.

And fifty springs will come and go
Before I note without surprise
The ticker tape of wild white plum
Against the freshly painted skies.


Counting my treasures one by one
In the shrinking light of a winter's sun,
I find that the fairest things indeed
Are the little extras that I did not need--
Not the house on the hill, nor the meat and bread,
But the yellow rose in my flower bed,
The scarlet maple, the mockingbird,
The book, the music, the friendly word.

I could have lived with nothing more
Than food and drink and a roof and a floor,
And even the roof and floor no doubt,
Are things that I could have lived without.
But I thank the God who gave me these
For adding color to maple trees,
For adding music to wide gray wings,
And grace and beauty to common things,
For planting daisies in useless places.
And lighting the smiles on friendly faces.


I shall not leave a note for those who are coming.
There is nothing that I must tell them, after all.
They will see at a glance that the roof has never been mended.
That the plaster is cracked and peeling and ready to fall.

There is no need to mention the faulty plumbing,
The creaking tread on the stair, and the sagging floor.
I shall say good-by just once again to the roses
And hang the key on the nail by the kitchen door.


She walks across a copper-colored hill
When dusk come on, and goldenrod is shrill
With thin, late voices. Underneath her feet
The touch of earth and broken grass is sweet,
And all her heart is quickened at the sound
Of ripened acorns thudding to the ground.

Below her in the valley lies a world
Of dusky, sloping roofs and wood-smoke curled
And windows lit with lamps. She slackens pace,
Wearing the last of summer on her face,
The last of sunlight lingering where she stands
Touching the goldenrod with both her hands.


This I always knew,
That she was always there,
A glimmer in the hall,
A shadow on the stair.

These I always heard
In every quietness--
The ripple of her hair,
The rustle of her dress.

And always in the dusk
And the long dark after,
I listened for a word
And a thin cold laughter.


Not that they matter any more,
The rose and the leaf and the bumble-bee,
What can they mean to a wraith like me,
Drifted back on a timeless sea,
Tossed like spray to a lonely shore?
Yet here I come, as I came before,
Up the sandy dune, through the stand of pine,
Past the holly and the trumpet vine,
And I find the gap in the garden hedge
And I see the rose by the kitchen door.

They house is as still as a house can be
When its heart is still and its bones are bare,
Though the lizard clings to the window ledge
And the smell of roses is everywhere.
There is no need to call your name
You will not know and I will not care.

I come only by a chance of tide,
A chance of tide and a change of the wind.
If I stay or go it is all the same.
There is nothing here but an empty house.
Summer hums in the bumble-bee
And stretches itself in the widening rose,
But nobody listens and nobody knows.
Then why do I stand at the door and call?
Oh, why do the dead come back at all?


A strange and breathless thing it is
That he is mine and I am his.
A circumstance of age and race,
A miracle of time and place,
And we who might have lived and died
A world apart are side by side.

The candles of my heart are lit
Every time I think of it.


Death, though you come tonight you come not soon.
I have no hunger for another day,
Another dawn, another afternoon,
Before you brush the final crumbs away.
Life has not been pleasant to the taste,
Time has not been sweet upon the tongue,
That I should sit forever at this feast
Among the starving old, the famished young.

So move not gently when you make your sign
And speak not softly when you call to dust.
There is a drink more bitter than your wine,
There is a bread less tender than this crust,
And there are deaths that came before today.
They have not left you much to take away.


I shall be colder than ice
And harder than stone,
Quiet as small things
That die alone.
I shall be bitter as fruit
Hung green on the bough.
I shall be everything
That I am not now.
And no one will know but you
Of what I am--
Water gone under the bridge,
Water gone over the dam.
Wood smoke caught on the wind,
Frost in July,
And that which is left of the flame
When the embers die.

The Woman at the Well

I dreamed I left my lover's side
And went into the day.
The women gathered up their skirts
And looked the other way.
The women who had kneaded bread
And set it out to rise
Drew back against their scrubbed white walls
And named me with their eyes.

I dreamed I left my lover's side
And walked across the town.
In every tree the birds grew dumb;
Their wings were folded down.
The worm was watchful on his leaf,
The lizard on his stone,
For none of these was friend to me
And I was friend to none.

The weeds that grew by Jacob's well
Were heavy with the heat.
The brambles caught my crimson gown,
The thistles bruised my feet.
The vine that fed the little fox,
The moss that hugged the stem--
They gave not any thought to me
Nor gave I thought to them.

And then it was the stranger came.
I dreamed I saw him there
With shadows soft about his feet
And sunlight in his hair.
I cannot tell you who he was
Nor whence it was he came,
But oh, the hand that touched my hand,
The voice that spoke my name!

I cannot tell you who he was,
Nor whence he came, nor why,
But he was all the living things
Of earth and sea and sky,
And he was all things beautiful.
I raised my eyes to him
And saw the springtime in his face,
And frost and fruited stem.

The small brown rabbit in the grass,
The cricket in the sand,
The eagle and the eagle's young
Were creatures of his hand.
And how it was I cannot say,
But when he spoke I heard
The summer whisper of the brook,
The tempest and the bird.

It was a dream and nothing more.
I saw him standing there,
And all the wrongs of all the world
Were tangled in his hair.
And shamed I was to see it then,
And shamed to tell it now,
That every sin I ever sinned
Was thorn against his brow.

The ugliness of all my sins
Upon his head was laid.
I saw them woven like a crown
And saw the marks they made.
And I who had not wept before
Must weep at last to see
The cruel marks upon his brow,
The thorns he wore for me.

I did not kneel to kiss his feet
Nor touch his garment's hem.
I only looked into his eyes
And saw my soul in them.
I only looked into his eyes
And beautiful to see,
My glowing soul, my altered soul,
Was shining back at me.

Then I went back the way I came
And all the world was sweet.
The daisy leaned its dusty head
Against my dusty feet.
The eagle loved me from his rock,
The lizard from his wall,
For each of us was friend to One
And each was friend to all.


And then I came in sorrow
And knelt beside her bed.
"I go before tomorrow.
Good-bye, good-bye," I said.

"One gift I bring in parting,
And only one I bring.
Not jewels for the finger
That never wore my ring.

"Not flowers for the bosom
That hides a heart untrue,
But peace I bring, beloved,
And peace I leave with you."

Now blow the winds of morning,
Now burn the morning skies,
And still my love is sleeping
And still she does not rise.

The sunlight falls unheeded
On marble breast and brow.
Would God that I were sleeping
As she is sleeping now!


Hello, world! Is anyone here,
Anyone else but me?
Does the sparrow brood on her ragged nest
In the cleft of the dogwood tree?
Does the kitten purr on the kitchen steps?
Does the lizard climb the stem?
And what of the people who live next door--
Has anyone heard from them?

Tellme, world, will the buses run,
Will the trains go by today?
If I find the path to the school yard now
Will there be a child at play?
Will anyone know if I lift my hand,
Will anyone hear me call?
Listen world, is there nobody left?
Nobody left at all!


Reach out with curious fingertips
And touch her lips.
How dead they are!
You will not learn from them what star
Moved first above the sycamore
Between the highway and the door,
Nor on what hill the holly grew.

She cannot tell you, though she knew,
How proudly on its slender stalk
The early tulip cupped its flame,
Nor how each year the daisies came
Unbidden to her garden walk.

How still she lies!
Touch with your wondering fingertips
Her lips and eyes.
Behind the eyelids and the lips
A whole world dies,
Not hills, not sloping roofs and trees,
But what she saw when she saw these,
Not cricket-cry nor maple-stir
But what they said to only her.


Now fold my fingers neatly upon the rose
And draw the heavy curtains of my eyes.
Shut in darkness where no night wind blows,
Shut out the summer and the wide blue skies.
Roof me with earth, and weight the earth with stones.
Put sentinals about me. Let the mole,
The tireless worm keep watch above my bones
And guard against the stirring of my soul.

But think not you have seen the last of me.
I shall not lie forever in this box,
Though death himself is keeper of the key;
There will yet be a scratching at the locks,
A gnawing at the hinges. Walk with care
Down any road. I may surprise you there.