Jeffers Poem by Mark Jarman


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To raise a stump of rock into a tower, rolling a stone
in place as the years pass.
Strangers who only know your silhouette bid it farewell and
travel to Japan,
Cross China, venture into India, to Europe, and, changed
by time and space,
Sail home over the bulging eye of ocean only to see, when
landfall looms in view,
The stump of rock--your tower--on the headland, and you there,
rolling a stone in place,
The edifice apparently no taller, as if each night you had
dismantled it
And every day had raised it up again.To know, only in
completion, the nisus
That dominates the spider when it spins, the bird building
its nest, the gray whale
Turning toward Mexico and the sea lion clambering up shingle
toward its mate--
The nisus of cairn-building, rock-piling, mortaring stone has
dominated you.
It dominates the reader bent above the book, poised like a
stork hunting; like sleep,
It is an utter unity of will and action, known--at least by
man or woman--
Only when it is over.And when the work is over--tower
building, poem writing--
You hear gulls cry and see them kiting at the bull terrier
out in the garden.
He has snatched up some strip of bloody fur they meant to mince
with beaks.Best to detach it
From his jaws, let gulls eat refuse like that.Go out into
the damp twilight, feel
The chill along the arms, through cloth, and take the petty
morsel from the pet dog, toss it
To the scolding gulls, down the rocky bank beyond the garden.
And lead the dog to food
Inside the kitchen.Enter, expecting to see the woman, the two
sons, and your place at table,
Waiting.And find you are alone.Even the dog at heel--
vanished.The stone house
Glumly dark and a dumb cold coming from its walls, that only
whiskey cuts.
The cold and dark conceal much, and memory must be evoked
to penetrate them.
Meanwhile, they are the elements that starlight loves.
Clear cold, pure darkness, outside the window,
Beside the guestbed, where you have planned to lie at last,
viewing the pure, clear stars without
Obstruction by the crude suburban dwellings--that absurd roof,
down there, like a coal scoop,
And the spite fences either side your property.Nothing
in creation shows
More the supreme indifference to humanity, despite the patterns
of the zodiac.
The stars, like bits of crystal ground into a griststone's
granite rim, are small themselves.
Only the surrounding emptiness is great.Take comfort in the
emptiness; lie down.
The drink will help you sleep awhile alone, without her, until
that section of the night
You've come to know--that region you once sailed through
peacefully, worn out by work and love.
Now, stranded there till dawn, sleepless, it will not matter
that you foresaw the planet's end
Or our end on the planet.Only sleep will matter.At that
hour, in those conditions,
Just out of reach, receding like the dark itself as daylight
pushes in, sleep only
Will be the thing you want.Powerless to attain what you
desire, yet bitterly
Desiring at all costs.Perhaps, then, memory, not starlight,
will intercede,
And the stone house gather warmth from its hearth fire, and
loved ones reappear, and you will sleep.

Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman

Mount Sterling, Kentucky
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