Lay Back the Darkness

If I’d read Edward Hirsch’s “Lay Back the Darkness” before writing my previous post, maybe I could have laid back some of my own darkness. Hirsch read the poem at Davidson a few years ago, but it didn’t speak to me then. That was well before Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I’m a firm believer that poems open up to you when you need them, and shun you—sometimes quite rudely—when you don’t. Yesterday, watching the video of Hirsch’s talk at Davidson, I clearly needed this poem, because it not only opened up to me, but also extended its hands, saying, “Here’s another way, Suzanne, here’s another way to look at the situation.”

Lay Back the Darkness

 

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

 

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

 

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

 

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

 

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

 

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

 

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

 

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

 

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops.

Before he read this poem, Hirsch talked about poetry, saying, “I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience—I hope you have—of sometimes reading a poem that is so… personal to you, so strong that it feels almost as if you’re writing the thing to which you’re actually only responding.” Hirsch then quoted the great Argentine writer, Jorge Louis Borges, who wrote in his own first book of poems:

Dear Reader,

Please forgive me for having written these poems first. It’s only something of an accident that I’m the unsure, ardent writer of these verses and you’re the reader.

It’s a strange plea, but what Borges alludes to, and what Hirsch underscores, is that uncanny feeling you get when you read a poem that speaks so exactly to your thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you could have written it yourself. When I listened to Hirsch read “Lay Back the Darkness” yesterday, I got that feeling.

If I did write that poem for Mom, it might go like this:

Play Back the Music

 

Dear Ed Hirsch,

Please forgive me for having rewritten your poem. It’s only something of an accident that I’ve become the unsure, ardent writer of your verse.

 

My mother in the Hearth shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

 

Help me, spirits, to penetrate her dream
and ease her uncertain passage.

 

Lay back the darkness for a lady
who could tidy everything but the shadows,

 

a musician who stands on the threshold
of a vast hall

 

without her walker or her heels
and cannot remember what she meant to say,

 

though her smile is bright, as if in greeting,
while her hands shake uselessly in worry.

 

My mother in the Hearth shuffling from room to room
is no longer a mother or a daughter or a wife,

 

but a girl standing on the edge of a dance
listening to the stirring thrum of song,

 

to young suitors,
to amorous heartbeats murmuring in the music.

 

800px-Olympic_Gardens_Dance_Hall,_Hunter_Street,_Halifax,_Nova_Scotia,_Canada,_ca-1._1948

Olympic Gardens Dance Hall, Hunter Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, ca. 1948 [public domain].

Comments

2 Responses to “Lay Back the Darkness”

  1. KM says:

    Beautiful!

  2. jean kirkham says:

    as always–poignant and beautiful——love jean and brian xxxxooooo

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