A Single Autumn

The year my parents died
one that summer one that fall
three months and three days apart
I moved into the house
where they had lived their last years
it had never been theirs
and was still theirs in that way
for a while

echoes in every room
without a sound
all the things that we
had never been able to say
I could not remember

doll collection
in a china cabinet
plates stacked on shelves
lace on drop-leaf tables
a dried branch of bittersweet
before a hall mirror
were all planning to wait

the glass doors of the house
remained closed
the days had turned cold
and out in the tall hickories
the blaze of autumn had begun
on its own

I could do anything

–W. S. Merwin

For anyone who has buried parents and had to dismantle a magpie’s nest of belongings, this poem is haunting. Merwin has described his own parents, particularly his preacher father, as harsh and cold. But in spite of that unsentimental objectivity, this poem is not coated in the resentment that many adult children harbor with resilience for an entire lifetime.

And here is one more:

Rain Light

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

You can hear Merwin read both these poems in an interview at NPR’s Fresh Air.

kircher1
From Athanasius Kircher’s “Mundus Subterraneus”

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