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Birthday Poem in a Time of War

read by the author

No one has to earn the gift of grieving.
It will come of itself, as it does today
Like a single pelican among a crowd of tern
Riding the tidewash, here at Marion Bay.

It began the moment when you left the room
Having set down a bowl of peppermint tea.
At first it teased the nostrils. Now the fume of it
Spreads everywhere. It’s not the memory

Of a lifelong friend whose breathing stopped
In his sleep a little month ago, or
Not only that. As if a door in the air
Flung open, and everything we clung to dropped

In an unending wave of sorrow
Down to a black river: the corpses and the burnings
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
The futility of trying to repair.

I was about to unwrap my seventy-fifth year.
When I turned round, the pelican
And all his water-birds had gone to god knows where.
So sudden the blank water, the blank sky.

Someone might say: But this will pass. Not so.
Each time it enters us it leaves a stain.
The stain deepens and it will remain.

Now time moves us through the wastes of morning
Where we teach our hands to remember this,
Then this. We can neither speak nor kiss.
Stunned in the heavy sunlight we sit, turning

The pages of our magazines, listening for
The riffle of wings along the shore
And, under that, for the tiny voice
That used to remind us: Some things
Are possible. Hang on to that. Hang on.