Any Common Desolation

Ellen Bass

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world

Desolation comes from the Latin desolare, to abandon and means a state of emptiness or loneliness. Who has not known this in any of its common, everyday forms? And this past month as I lived with this state, this poem found me.

And yet, as the poet says, it can be enough to make you look up, take notice of the yellowed leaves, ‘against a blue so sheer, a single bird would rip it like silk‘. Will you ever see a certain blue of the sky again without recalling that astonishing image?

 

You may have to break / your heart, but it isn’t nothing / to know even one moment alive. Of course our hearts must break, but she tells us it is no small thing to be aware and alive in any small moment. Then she reminds us of ordinary sounds, sights, smells, feelings that can bring us into this very moment.

The image of a mother (your mother?) putting on your white cotton socks, ‘her precision a ceremony’ – is that not exquisite? Whether or not you ever personally experienced that.

And finally, the big dipper pouring night down over you and everything / you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves / and, like a needle slipped into your vein—/ that sudden rush of the world. That moment when the world rushes in, however briefly, dissolving what is unbearable, that is what we live for, to know even one moment alive.

May some element of this world rush in to grace you in a moment of desolation. Look for it; it will be there.

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