for Hillary Gravendyk, in memoriam
The sun goes down, we say,
but that’s not right.
Still, night falls
on the tragedy’s final act.
The first star like a pinprick in tin.
And how to pierce through.
I was looking for a metaphor.
For someone who knows the way.
On the shelf a book titled
The Sight of Death.
On the shelf a little bottle
to keep age away.
Thei made theire bokis to many men ful derk
In poyses, parabols, & in methaphoris alle-so—
this from the Ordinal of Alchemy.
Given change, he sought it
in a book he called Believe Me.
In the dark of night I trace his script.
Stars bore through the black.
Shadow or shade, elemental also.
A continent away, daylight,
and all the named things still seen:
Cock’s Foot, Germander Speedwell.
As in Dürer’s painting of turf, 1503,
rhizomous white roots and the push
of green take the undying field.
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
Whitman wonders, fed by death,
in the poem my friend loves.
The field itself, some kind of bed.
For what sleep. She wrote that this
spring may be her last. I lay
on the damp earth, in the grass
interwoven with the dozens of plants
I’d thought nameless, the little white
daisy-like flowers and the tendrils
of the tiny striated blue ones,
which have, as it happens, not only
the one name Speedwell but many more
besides, Bird’s Eye, Cat’s Eye, Farewell
and Goodbye. You were to stitch a posy
of it onto the beloved’s coat
before a journey, the boat leaving
for what distant shore. The passengers
reluctant to go, as is the poem
that knows it has to come to an end,
and refuses, like a child stalling
before bed, not tired yet or scared
of the dark. Every death takes
a body; it’s hard to know what it leaves.
Already it has stitched its signature
into her chest, the scars that chart
her illness like lines on a map
that show where the ship has sailed,
struck rock, found the ocean too deep
to anchor and so drifted windless,
the sea, like the earth, teeming
with the dead. And so back
to the flowers, which every spring
since Dürer, and long before,
have bloomed, discrete as the beloved,
and if we are to believe Whitman,
and why not, of the beloved as well,
hair or tongue or the unseeing eyes
that were the color of chestnuts
and are no more. Why not lie
in the grass in the sun, taking
the flowers as proof that nothing dies.
This is what the poem’s after,
after all: a figure, no matter
how thin, that might make
these reversals in matter seem
like a switch flipped on and off,
off and on. A child playing
day and night, dark and light.
A single life like that, or not at all.
The blazoned body undone, stitch
by stitch. And what on the other side.
If in the bag the phone rings
and goes unanswered: will she
feel like that, calling from far away.
JESSICA FISHER is the author of two books of poetry: Frail-Craft, which won the 2006 Yale Younger Poets Prize, and Inmost (Nightboat Books, 2012). Her awards include the 2012–13 Rome Prize in Literature, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was the Holloway Postdoctoral Fellow in Poetry at UC Berkeley, and currently teaches at Williams College.