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11.05.10
The Crossing
For Robin Blaser (1925–2009)


“Body and soul cast out and cast away
Beyond the visible world.”
—Yeats, A Vision

1. 

The loneliness was verbal, started in the 
act of seeing the world before us, finding out what we needed to know.
 

There is singularity 
and there is the enclosed shell of the singular. 
A long way from home the shelled pieces 
shell-shocked you could say. How can anyone 
recall the first experience of 
death’s half open doors left 
to receive us … 

            I wandered over to you in the blink 
            of an eye said there’s something courage 
            can’t deny ‘the maul the oar and handsaw’ 
            arranged where you left them 
            a fortnight ago.
 

‘It is astonishing 
how much time has passed—’ 
How is it we come back here 
again and again ageless 
aging in place of what once formed 
wonder. 

Yet the capacity to wander, worldless, without home 
except in the language we speak, so that it forms a kind of shell 
a loose cavity in which we find ourselves 
again and again enduring the weightedness of words, their stained 
improvident elements, word by word, written down on 
so many pieces of looseleaf, scratched really, unreadable 
at this distance, as if a fold of ash had absorbed 
then smudged the writing beyond recognition. 



2. 

‘The true human dialogue, that of 
hands and eyes, is a silent dialogue.’ 

My hands are tied to yours … the way 
our hands make one proposition in time 
with others. ‘We touch and not 
having given and not.’ 

The isolation wears the body 

down … from one to another 

some lost art of standing still 

facing what comes. 

‘The older you get as a writer, the more you’re struck from time to time 
by a word that you’ve never written. Such a word can evoke an 
entire period. And it’s not just the older you get the more you’re 
stuck, but you’re also stuck more frequently. For the openness of 
the glossy stamp of words comes only in later years, the more 
frequently you encounter worn-out words, indeed words that have 
become worn-out by your own use.’ 



3. 

                        ‘I believe I heard language 
through my daughter’s belly, and fell as she 
did under its spell … ’ 

A brief spell. Standing inside 
its aura. Spellbound. Fearless 
and fearful at the same instant. Birth- 
knot of the unsaid, spelled backward … An interval 
woven of befores and afters, as if communication were itself 
a seal of wordlessness, the infant drawn backward 
and forward at the same instant, weighted 
by silence, not weighted but 
floating past us. 

Something close to pity folds 
us into its thorny reclusive self again. 
I had lost your address sent the 
card twenty years ago to have 
it come back so many years from now 
sealed unread.
 

                           ‘And this is real pain, 
               Moreover. It is terrible to see the children … ’ 

The mortal thread 
pulled tight. Dear single 
eye, open and close, open 
& close. 



4. 

If the face softens the angle of vision 
lost for a moment partway you carry its 
                                   ashy deposit under your tongue. 

Death creates a space. 
One by one, blind leading the blind. 

The contents of a lifetime imaged 
again and again … held up 
to the light you said the light is holding us up 

In the light when language fails us 
we fail language 

                         one sees the ‘heartlessness 
                         of words,’ the eye 
                         habituated 

                         to what it sees 
                         cannot see 

                         closing shut on the particulars of a world. 



5. 

    ‘When the anticipation of death comes 
so indisputably to hollow out the living 
present that precedes it, and when 
mourning is at work, how will we know 
our time has come?’ 

Marked out without 
plan or reason 

simply going 
for a walk at sunrise, the sun 

light when it falls 
across the fields and you walk low to the horizon 

a précis of movement in time. 

            ‘A light that now fell on the flowers as if a field of freshly cut 
flowers mown grass had come into view. What did I remember of the 
first image of them. Flowers and grass, yellow and green, in the rain 
a boy was leading me back over porcelain tiles, so that I was drawn to 
the strange hexagonal patterns, and began to grope my way with his 
hand in my hand, kneeling down, groping as others passed us on 
their way into the fields. When he moved away from me in the distance 
I saw the yellow and red flowers glowing in the July heat and his body 
lithe young small-framed erased in a flood of light.’ 



6. 

We are unable 
to face you, and stop here 
speechless, an aporia 
of unwilled abandonment. Dreaming 
as you would have us do 
‘out there    to carry it 
a gift to a wedding’ 

Blind obligation, sweet obligatoes of a passage back to one 
                                                                          who remains unseen. 

The strangeness of your face in passing that ‘brings us together in the difference 
and sometimes the silence of speech.’ 

A voice no less than any 
other I may know, its companionate need 
that estranges and comforts me. 

I am not without comfort … or strength … 

Soft circling gulls 
winging their way back east …



7. 

‘Flaunts of sunshine … bask … lie 
back … light … bask … light sovereign … earth … 
in our hands … ’ 

There is no salt on your table. 

No bread no water. 

If you come to the table 

and ask for salt when you come 

you will find the table bare. 

One sits here a long time here … inside 

there is one table against the wall. 

And again there is no table 

we can lean on. 



8. 

‘Words open out upon grief’ 

Yet the windows are without light when the season enters its latest phase 

vistas darkened by what’s missing from the vision. 

Visionary abjection or the faces of strangers as far as one can 

see against a window surface plain as day the last forms of 

daylight broken into patterns of seeing. 

And ‘the reaching out the risking of touch’ 

is the plurality of our loss fulfilling 

itself in leave-words under the limbs of a tree in April light. 



9. 

Wintry not blue light. Dusk’s 
sensual presence. Saying there is 
a house in white fields 
in the middle of which 
one 
            tree stands erect. 

‘I have embraced you there … and therefore 
propose the way behind you.’ 

In some unreal moon 
dark night 
note the formation 
of a single branch 
                        cut in half. 

The sky shining 
under a scarf of iris. 



10. 

Some morning 
standing alone, past recall … your voice 
lured by the fiction of a voice, the summoning of a language 
I can remember but not yet speak. 

‘What’s in it is neither true nor false.’ 
‘I’m game if you are.’ 
‘Put the dead together in a line … ’ 

The hidden is a name, a pact, willed 
back from hiding. Nom de plum. 
‘I stood back from you, observing, waiting my turn 
to come forward.’ There is less 
need to say it. Mired in the distance …
Voices recollected 
each in its own house. 

            The earth held in common … awaiting us … 



11. 

When the body is free 
of itself can any of us 
be free of what it gave? 

Hand moving through the frame 
inside a cut-out of light blue 
sky raised blue above 

trees not one 
but many in the framed 
portrait of a man sitting in full view 

of others, trailing off 
as one sits with him 
then goes away. 

And behind where he sat … your 
coffee cup resting before you and your hand 
extended toward us. 

The card bearing news 
of your passing—

            ‘Language is love.’ 

Reversing what you had written 
I wrote 

            ‘Love is language.’ 

And held the page up to the light 
pieces of it burning in the midmorning glare. 



12. 

Turning back 
there is this backward 
turning among the slow-flowing 
lines … 

            ‘the play begins with the world’ 

And words 
from our mother’s lips. Set 
back from her … sent back from 
her living will. ‘Erect as she’ 
Yet deity fled … godless … in how many 
guises, ghosts returning through 
the language she spelled out for us. 

‘For none more than you are the present and the past, 
For none more than you is immortality’ 

Where the shadow takes 
shape takes time 
comes back into fatherless motherless song 

What do you see my little one 
close your eyes little bird 
what do you know my little one 
close your eyes little bird 
close your eyes
 

Night song. ‘The noise 
of light’ enfolding you. 



13. 

Sea night. Sea black. 

As if returning to childhood and the rhythms of 
speech, adulterous, incestuous, giving pleasure 
by the hour. ‘Reclusive’ you wrote me and it was 
to my ear a way of understanding what had 
happened, the course of a lifetime, 40 years is not 
so long to remember, it comes again in one 
wave, wavelets, rings of foamy water, ringing 
the shoreline. 

            ‘It is a moteless clarity behind us.’ 

The weight of it 
astonishing, after all this time 
to return in the clothes of a stranger 
awaiting some new turn, some possible refuge 
from all that’s happened. 

What to say to our children 
years later when they read these words … passing 
strangely between their hands, page after page, ‘like a knife blade 
driven into mystery.’ 



14. 

A continuity in what one writes so that you can divest the self, almost 
arrive at its starting point, begin again with smoothed over sheets of paper laid 
end to end, a nonending pattern progressing line by line, blurred, blistered, pasted over, 
marred, brilliant squares of light, illuminated by a ‘fine flame 
almost unseen in common light.’ 

One wants to read in light of what he has written. 

Reading what one has written the urge to destroy what one writes. 

Working hard against the impulse that it bears out what we started to undo, unsay. Mirror 
writing, a blank slate, nothing has been here, nothing will 
be left where it was. 

‘A brutal dream drenched with our lives 
intemperate, open, illusory, 
            to which we wake, sweating to make 
substance of it, turn 
its face to us, unwilling, and see the 
snowflakes glitter there, and melt. 

—there’s nothing more to say.’ 



15. 

The gloss is this much 
of what can be known, paratactic blaze of grammar 
that squelches the possibility of an alternative position, almost 
as if we couldn’t catch our breath, held in a state of rapt awareness—cracked 
‘whereness’—irrecoverable in prose: 

            She had sunk down on the manuscript-chest, and 
            notwithstanding her fluid lightness under which the 
            leather cover of the chest did not bend the fraction 
            of an inch, her hands were so closely and physically 
            linked with his that his fingers were blissfully 
            able to feel her soft features, for she held her 
            face buried in her hands. 




16. 

‘We’re undoing ciphers, bending 
brittle bits of bone, bird wing, abstracted 
pieces of half-eaten meat, climb into the court of 
judgment, arise, make way, the primping and grooming 
of sleek complexions, one sleeps till noon 
one makes his way to the sound of the cithara 
while the night comes on, and one forgets 
as much as he learns, that to inscribe 
the pages in blood is not the same 
as to cut the throat that sings. 
Surely you have it in you, left at the seaside 
where once you took a daughter 
to her mother’s side, laid under the 
canvas your carving stick and knife, your 
pen dipped in salt water, a lamp 
heavy with residue.’ 



17. 

When you stepped outside 
winter had passed, limbs crossed 
above your doorway, settling ‘wet 
                        black trees of my humanity, my skin.’ 

A lifetime ago you said 
‘robed in my words I say the snake 
changes its skin out of honesty.’ 

                                    As if we once could become 

                                    skin shed on open ground 

                                    the hand that traces its 

                                    shadow in silence 

                                    each brightness holding equal 

                                    amounts of shade. 



18. 

‘Come back from your hiding place … ’ 

The words are wound tight 
’round the wrist of a child heading out to play. 
Years later there is only the ring 
of their presence remaining. And the blackened 
ground where they stood. 
This preamble … turning over rough soil 
easily overlooked 

                        ‘tell it, repeat, enter the shine 
                        of 
                            how old we are’ 

“It is astonishing / how much time has passed” is from Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Draft 85: Hard Copy.” “The true human dialogue, that of / hands and eyes, is a silent dialogue” is from Edmond Jabès. The quote in section 2 beginning “The older you get as a writer” and the somewhat adapted passage beginning “A light that now fell on the flowers” in section 3 are from Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2, 1931–1934. “Fine flame / almost unseen in common light” is borrowed from Denise Levertov. “It is a moteless clarity behind us” is from Forrest Gander, “Exhaustible Appearance.” “Words open out upon grief” is from Robert Duncan, Letters. Section 11 is adapted from Epistles of Horace, tr. David Ferry. “Like a knife blade / driven into mystery” is from Zbigniew Herbert, “Mr Cogito and Pop.” The quoted material ending section 15 is William Carlos Williams, in a letter to Denise Levertov, February 16, 1958, from the Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams. Phrases and lines, marked and unmarked, from the poetry of Robin Blaser appear throughout this poem.

Andrew Mossin's book of critical essays, Male Subjectivity and Poetic Form in "New American" Poetry, was published in April (Palgrave Macmillan 2010). He has recently completed a work of autobiographical prose, The Presence of Their Passing, and is currently at work on a new collection of poems, The Pledge. He teaches in the Writing Program at Princeton University and lives in Doylestown, PA with his two daughters.