May 17, 2011 from The Book of Nightmares

Readers,

Here’s a selection from one of my favorites. “Selection” is the right term because I’m excerpting this from a book-length poem called “The Book of Nightmares,” first published in 1971, and referred to as Galway’s Kinnell’s masterpiece. Huh, I thought, as I picked it up at the 1/2-price bookstore, I thought “Wait” was Galway Kinnell’s masterpiece! Well of course I had to have it.

Here’s the thing. It’s not really about nightmares. It’s about mortality, and death itself. As such, it contains references to the Greeks and to Dante. But it is thoroughly modern, incorporating as well the intimate voice of much late-20th century American poetry, and elements of psychadelia.

The book is divided into 10 cantos, each containing 7 sections. Some of them are straightforwardly about loved ones and the passage of time, like this one, which I believe speaks to his then-young daughter.

Galway Kinnell is still churning them out, of course, dividing his time between New York and Vermont, and teaching at NYU. -ed.

from The Book of Nightmares
Canto VII § 5

If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a café at on end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking
one day all this will only be memory,

learn,
as you stand
at this edge of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come — to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world
. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

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