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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.