Accidents Of Birth, by William Meredith

Je vois les effroyables espaces de l’Univers qui m’enferment, et je me trouve attaché à un coin de cette vaste étendue, sans savoir pourquoi je suis plutôt en ce lieu qu’en un autre, ni pourquoi ce peu de temps qui m’est donné à vivre m’est assigné à ce point plutôt qu’à un autre de toute l’éternité qui m’a précédé, et de toute qui me suit.

—Pascal, Pensées sur la religion

The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here?

—Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House

Spared by a car or airplane crash or
cured of malignancy, people look
around with new eyes at a newly
praiseworthy world, blinking eyes like these.

For I’ve been brought back again from the
fine silt, the mud where our atoms lie
down for long naps. And I’ve also been
pardoned miraculously for years
by the lava of chance which runs down
the world’s gullies, silting us back.
Here I am, brought back, set up, not yet
happened away.

But it’s not this random
life only, throwing its sensual
astonishments upside down on
the bloody membranes behind my eyeballs,
not just me being here again, old
needer, looking for someone to need,
but you, up from the clay yourself,
as luck would have it, and inching
over the same little segment of earth-
ball, in the same little eon, to
meet in a room, alive in our skins,
and the whole galaxy gaping there
and the centuries whining like gnats—
you, to teach me to see it, to see
it with you, and to offer somebody
uncomprehending, impudent thanks.

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Last Things, by William Meredith

For Robert Lowell

I
In the tunnel of woods, as the road
Winds up through the freckled light, a porcupine,
Larger than life, crosses the road.
He moves with the difficulty of relics—
Possum, armadillo, horseshoe crab.
To us they seem creatures arthritic with time,
Winding joylessly down like burnt-out galaxies.
In all their slowness we see no dignity,
Only a want of scale.
Having crossed the road oblivious, he falls off
Deliberately and without grace into the ferns.

II
In another state are hills as choppy as lake water
And, on a hillside there,
Is a junkyard of old cars, kept for the parts—
Fenders and chassis and the engine blocks
Right there in the field, smaller parts in bins
In a shed by the side of the road. Cows graze
Among the widely spaced rows,
Which are irregular only as an old orchard is,
Following the contours of the hill.
The tops of the cars are bright colors still
And as pretty as bottles hung on a bare tree
Or painted cinder blocks in a garden.
Cars the same age are parked on the road like cannibals.

III
At the edge of a harbor, in a field
That faces the ocean they came by and left by,
Statues of soldiers and governors and their queen
Lie where the Africans put them.
Unbewildered, not without understanding,
The marble countenances look at the green
Continent; they did their best; plunderers
Were fewer among them than men of honor.
But no one comes for them, though they have been offered.
With chipped extremities, in a chipped regalia
They lie at angles of unaccustomed ease.
In the parks and squares of England are set up
Bolder, more dreadful shapes of the ego,
While African lichen confers an antique grandeur
On these, from whom men have withheld it.

IV
At the edge of the Greek world, I think, was a cliff
To which fallen gods were chained, immortal.
Time is without forgiveness, but intermittenly
He sends the old, sentimental, hungry
Vulture compassion to gnaw on the stone
Vitals of each of us, even the young, as if
To ready each of us, even the old, for an unthinkable
Event he foresees for each of us—a reckoning, our own.

Starlight, by William Meredith

Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.

But this is not so. Indeed, we have proved fools
When it comes to myths and images. A few
Old bestiaries, pantheons and tools
Translated to the heavens years ago—
Scales and hunter, goat and horologe—are all
That save us when, time and again, our systems fall.

And what would we do, given a fresh sky
And our dearth of image? Our fears, our few beliefs
Do not have shapes. They are like that astral way
We have called milky, vague stars and star-reefs
That were shapeless even to the fecund eye of myth—
Surely these are no forms to start a zodiac with.

To keep the sky free of luxurious shapes
Is an occupation for most of us, the mind
Free of luxurious thoughts. If we choose to escape,
What venial constellations will unwind
Around a point of light, and then cannot be found
Another night or by another man or from other ground.

As for me, I would find faces there,
Or perhaps one face I have long taken for guide;
Far-fetched, maybe, like Cygnus, but as fair,
And a constellation anyone could read
Once it was pointed out; an enlightenment of night,
The way the pronoun you will turn dark verses bright.