Monday, November 25, 2013

Zeroing In

by Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water, 1984
‘I am a landscape,’ he said,
‘a landscape and a person walking in that landscape.
There are daunting cliffs there,
and plains glad in their way
of brown monotony. But especially
there are sinkholes, places
of sudden terror, of small circumference
and malevolent depths.’
‘I know,’ she said. ‘When I set forth
to walk in myself, as it might be
on a fine afternoon, forgetting,
sooner or later I come to where sedge
and clumps of white flowers, rue perhaps,
mark the bogland, and I know
there are quagmires there that can pull you
down, and sink you in bubbling mud.’
‘We had an old dog,’ he told her, ‘when I was a boy,
a good dog, friendly. But there was an injured spot
on his head, if you happened
just to touch it he’d jump up yelping
and bite you. He bit a young child,
they had to take him down to the vet’s and destroy him.’
‘No one knows where it is,’ she said,
‘and even by accident no one touches it.
It’s inside my landscape, and only I, making my way
preoccupied through my life, crossing my hills,
I myself without warning touch it,
and leap up at myself--’
‘--or flinch back
just in time.’
‘Yes, we learn that.
It’s not terror, it’s pain we’re talking about:
those places in us, like your dog’s bruised head,
that are bruised forever, that time
never assuages, never.’

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