A Midlife Testimony: Chris Mann

Chris Mann1

I do not love you anymore.
I used to, when we were young
and words like love were tumbling in our thoughts.’
The scent of jasmine in the streets of spring,
the press of starlight through a sky of leaves
was what such words then meant to me.

But when I track back through the years
and see what we have shared,
the bliss and strain of parenting,
the stress of work and terror at the loss of work,
the illnesses, bereavements and despair,
I reach a truth we thought we knew
but only glimpsed in phantom silhouettes,
that more, much more’s enfolded in love’s youth
than carefree laughter, lingering kisses,
starlight and the scents of spring.

Ah no, my subtle-fingered humorous one,
stepping back a moment from your easel,
your hair tied back, your brush in hand,
oblivious to the ringing of the phone,
I more than love you now –
I cannot bear to wake without your body being near.

And when I recollect your flying curls,
your mulberry-coloured jacket and your black beret,
and see you standing in a midnight doorway once again
where jasmine’s fragrance drifted through the dark
and stars outlined your tilt of head,
your fling of hair, the white camellia of your throat,
that love, if such it be returns,
that wild, sweet, fiery exhilaration storms back
and cloudbursts through my midlife’s shaken heart.

Duality: Wendell Berry


Duality

So God created man in his
own image, in the image of God
created he him; male and female
created he them.

I
To love is to suffer – did I
know this when first
I asked you for your love?
I did not. And yet until
I knew, I could not know what
I asked, or gave. I gave
a suffering that I took: yours
and mine, mine when yours;
and yours I have feared most.

II
What can bring us past
this knowledge, so that you
will never wish our life
undone? For if ever you
wish it so, then I must wish
so too, and lovers yet unborn,
whom we are reaching toward
with love, will turn to this
page, and find it blank.

III
I have feared to be unknown
and to offend – I must speak,
then, against the dread
of speech. What if, hearing,
you have no reply, and mind’s
despair annul the body’s hope?
Life in time may justify
any conclusion, whenever
our will is to conclude.

IV
Look at me now. Now,
after all the years, look at me
who have no beauty apart
from what we two have been
and made. Look at me
with the look that anger
and pain have taught you,
the gaze in which nothing
is guarded, nothing withheld.

V
You look at me, you give
a light, which I bear and return,
and we are held, and all
our time is held, in this
touching look – this touch
that, pressed against the touch
returning in the dark,
is almost sight. We burn
and see by our own light.

VI
Eyes looking into eyes looking
into eyes, touches that see
in the dark, remember Paradise,
our true home. God’s image
recalls us to Itself. We move
with motion not our own,
light upon light, day and
night, sway as two trees
in the same wind sway.

VII
Let us come to no conclusion,
but let our bodies burn
in time’s timelessness. Heaven
and earth give us to this night
in which we tell each other of
a Kingdom yet to come, saying
its secret, its silent names.
We become fleshed words, one
another’s uttered joy.

VIII
Joined in our mortal motion,
we come to the resurrection
of words; they rise up
in our mouths, set free
of taints, errors, and bad luck.
In their new clarities
the leaf brightens, the air
clears, the syllables of water are
clear in the dark air as stars.

IX
We come, unsighted, in the dark,
to the great feast of lovers
where nothing is withheld.
That we are there we know
by touch, by inner sight.
They all are here, who by
their giving take, by taking
give, who by their living
love, and by loving live.

Wendell Berry

The Country of Marriage: Wendell Berry


The Country Of Marriage

I.

I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.

II.

This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth’s empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.

III.

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

IV.

How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.

V.

Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen time and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.

VI.

What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

VII.

I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy–and this poem,
no more mine than any man’s who has loved a woman.

Wendell Berry