IN THE ABSENCE
In the absence of Christ, one must become
one’s own hands, moving
one’s self tenderly
through all the shapes that pain takes.
Whatever you thought you knew, your hands
will forget it for you,
remembering only the hollows
and lilts of your lonely body
which quietly holds its own
story, and waits to be heard.
So when you are listening
at last, your hands will be holding
that wordless quality your mother’s had
which changes everything and nothing.
And in this luxury the marrow
of your bones
will finally speak.
This is what you hold
when there is nothing to hold
but old and cellular
grief. Find a window.
Together with yourself, see:
the light breaks,
the bedsheets cradle me, crumpled,
my head may rest here in aching peace.
The veil between me
and the place where everything
is thin as an onion’s membrane, and behind
it, darkly, I can see my life
happening, see it decked
in simplicity like the basic lace
of old curtains. I must stop adoring
all my failures and go in,
quietly, as in to the kitchen
where a full meal
waits, because I am full
of frailty but have not forgotten
how to eat; it was written
into my body in a way
that all this failing
and thinking were not. Pain
is an error, and I will always be
in error, happily
or not, but I can walk
through it as easily as God
could step out of my closet, if she
chose, and does,
and the peach she is holding, plump,
radiant and loud
as the bombers flying over
half the world, is ripe
to be wasted —
not the fruit, which lived
to be offered,
who did not make the time
“The cure for pain is in the pain.”
The cure for pain is in the pain.
As if an inside knife could air
the venom from a swollen vein.
Or does it mean, Increase the weight you bear
deliberately; speed forward into grief;
assist that thirsty alchemy, despair.
It may be saying, Drop the sheaf
of what you must have, like a useless broom
of frivolous weeds, whose life was brief.
You will not have it. Not till the room
you are is empty, blown clear in a shutterburst of
and the wind plucks heedlessly a threadless loom.
It strips us clean as bone. In failure, we’re laid plain
as whitewash, old as grain.
The cure for pain is in the pain . . .
and yet, I cannot say goodbye again.