‘A Quiet Conscience Sleeps in Thunder’
—old English saying
Before we stopped making war without stop
in our bedclothes, minds erupting into
the inexplicable slop of creation,
the constant caustic calluses above
our brows seemed intaglios, indicating
some dreams of a much larger, longer life.
“It was the first bite,” I said, “we’ve kept up
for the sake of the short end of the stick.”
Then, for long moments, we lay exhausted
in bed, heads full of injustices, struck
by the good a god could do, or the good
we could do without shame every night.
By dawn, all the old questions remaining
unresolved, foreboding bodies falling
toward us as far as eyes could see, forming
their own casual gliding from their god,
“He holds our hearts half-aloft,” they complained
to no one, “and He never lets us sleep.”
Purified beings, uselessly beautiful,
with their wings’ intense spiritual music,
these creatures went out of their way to say,
“It isn’t how you do something, but who
you do it to. When your body catches fire,
there’s no sense in feeling you’re the flames…”
Hardened by experience, then we knew
each voice as something sent to advise us
about our own fallen qualifications,
as, blue-lit, sidling in, their speech bearing
deeper strains of despair, we remembered
our own old gifts for feeling so exposed.
Since we didn’t care to carry out such
measures of what those voices came to swear,
there seemed no consolation in our learning
to sell our souls: the eyes for which we fell
would fall for other eyes– becoming still
colder because of what we’d done before.
That was one truth, as we made our paths through
labyrinths, bearing the messages that
we’d tried, side by side, for some small miracle–
especially since we’d learned sharper ways
of seeing to the ends of our days, pinning
everything, yet nothing really, down.
Formed to our own ways of thinking, we felt
unready yet to choose anything more:
the walls around us had never been breached,
the soft plush flesh cushions we’d grown into,
unlike marble, weren’t chaste to the touch;
we’d never even been past those poor shores.
There would be other journeys, to confront
those whose dreams of our dreams of dreams come true
came true only in collapsed oppositions,
so cold that our neighborhood froze like dead
brotherhoods after joy– whose ends confirmed
resistance to time, as if for the last time…
Then, adding new pictures on paper to
our collections, it’s how we’d take refuge
in teachings in accordance with new rules
of making old rules obsolete. One by one,
these bright flowers had less and less to do
with our extinctions, so it was useful
to have something else to study: leaves, soil,
stamps in glassine envelopes, those okay
bouquets; to use the big muscle groups inside
our bodies; then, to fall from the edge of
words into wonder, perhaps to compose
a paean that might, someday, feel just right.
For now, we’ll travel on, discovering
places and things we’d thought we didn’t need
to know, viewing others through dark glasses,
seeing everything swimming before us
as formulated, as a test as great as
our forever unrequited love of selves.
David Schloss was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1944, and attended Columbia, U.S.C. Cinema School, Brooklyn College and The Iowa Writers Workshop (MFA, 1967). He has been a Professor of English, first at Cincinnati, then Miami, Ohio.
His books and chapbooks include: The Beloved (Ashland, 1973); Legends (Windmill, 1976); Sex Lives of the Poor and Obscure (Carnegie Mellon, 2001; Greatest Hits (Pudding House, 2004); and Group Portrait From Hell (Carnegie Mellon, 2006).