POETRY: Compassion (Three Poems)

Compassion (Three Poems)

Painting of a White Gate and Sky

For Betsy

There is no one in the picture
so you must enter it.
Your dress held together with bent pins.
You must enter
with your heart of gray snow.

There is no one in the bank left corner
so you must stand there.
You with your wrists chained,
with your stomach locked up.
You with emptiness tapping
sorrow’s code
in its cage of bone.

The steps are grown over with sharp blades.
No one has been there.
You are the first one.
Desperate, proper,
your heels leave deep punctures.

You with breath failing.
You with your mother’s ring.
With your belt undone.
You with your mind of twisted ferns.

There is no one at the gate
so you must stand there.
You with your picked-over heart.
You with shoulders of cracked glass.
With hands falling open.
You with nobody.

It is a gate no one ever pushed open,
a gate that stands alone,
swung shut before the stars
were strung up in the black net.

There is no one beyond the gate.
There is no one to watch you.
There is no one to see grief unloading like train cars.

Go there you chained one
Your heels that leave wounds
You sister
You heart of gray snow.

(Louise Erdrich)


In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

(Louise Glück)

The Weighing

The heart’s reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

(Jane Hirshfield)

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