Poetry from NER 42.3 (2021)
The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.
—John Berger, from Ways of Seeing
Grief paralyzes. Motion continues; time departs.
Something’s left with no means to retrieve it.
A candle out in the down–clap of darkness. Then to wade and wade—
In grief: I, detached from place and time.
You appear in candlelight across the table.
The oysters gleam in butter. I ask for your hand.
Our fingers hold together for the first time.
If we accept that we can see that hill over there, we propose that from that hill we can be seen.
In a voicemail, you’re walking downhill
to your house, a detail I now know about.
Static crinkles out your breath
to see if I want to talk.
I worry that your dream was right.
That I was the abuser, not you. How do I know?
We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.
There’s a way, in your dream,
that you’re able to love me.
The you I love inside the dream
who asks how we can remember.
I want your dream to be right.
Now somewhere else, when I read your words,
I get back into the habit of undoing my own.
I said yes to your dream so many times
I saw myself as you dreamed me.
If we can see the present clearly enough, we shall ask the right questions of the past.
How do I know?
Once you leave someone, the dream becomes divided.
Your sense of reality. Their sense of reality.
Images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent.
The divided field is a field that cannot be seen
through the eyes of one person. That is,
a field with space for your absence.
In my dreams, you remain as vivid as ever,
but you no longer have control over me.
A dream is in and out of focus; it is both to aspire
and to touch in spirit—reverie. It is the act of giving
away control of consciousness, to see and be seen
but out of focus. A dream is, in both cases, a vision.
The dream reminds me: what I see and what I know
is never settled. The dream is, also, neither the future
nor the past but a perception of the world through me,
both voluntary and not.
But to hear correctly is my concern. I have no other.
So what is written follows, gets lost, finds the path
again—and what is seen there: that is all included.
NOTES: Italicized quotes are from Ways of Seeing by John Berger. The quote in the last section is from an essay by Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Angela Livingstone.