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Michael Van Walleghen's Poetry

THE FORMER LIFE

It scatters and it gathers;
it advances and retires.

 

-Heraclitus

 

On the great wheel
of birth and rebirth

 

at one momentous tick
turn, orbit or another

 

it's entirely possible
that some of us, most

 

of us, who could ever
guess how many, inherit

 

in the parsimonious interest
of a vast, metaphysical economy

 

and on condition of amnesia
the outworn, reborn soul

 

of someone else--some tiny
fierce Penelope, let's say

 

or, taking breath enraged
by all the same old noise

 

and stupid light, a squalling
infant Heraclitus maybe-

 

who must hence abide with us
anonymous and inaccessible

 

forever, a disposition merely
or merest inkling, intimations

 

that haunt us all our lives-
as when waking up sometimes

 

one hears again the surge
and rattling, long retreat

 

over small, loose stones
of the just-dreamt ocean-

 

a dream itself still haunted
by the fog-tripled clarity

 

of exuberant speech, birds
the measured, dactylic

 

splash of thudding oars-
POETRY! POETRY! What

 

dark poems had I lived
in the former life

 

and then forgot? I remember
by way of answer, the birdlike

 

shadow-writing of the leaves
against a sunlit bedroom wall

 

and how, despite the scattered
trembling incoherence there--

 

all that frantic self-erasure--
it seemed something nonetheless

 

that might, at any moment
gather into perfect sense--

 

if only for the tricky terms
for nightingale, dawn skies

 

like ocean dreams Penelope
left unraveled on her loom--

 

one right word or syllable--
some dim least letter even

 

from that difficult language
we'll all remember later.