Facing into It

By Eleanor Wilner b. 1937 Eleanor Wilner

for Larry Levis

So it is here, then, after so long, and after all—
as the light turns in the leaves in the old golden   
way of fall,
                   as the small beasts dig to the place
at the roots where survival waits, cowardly crouching   
in the dark,
                   as the branches begin to stretch into winter,   
freed of their cheerful burden of green, then

      it comes home, the flea-ridden bitch of desolation,   
a thin dog with its ribs exposed like a lesson
in mathematics, in subtraction; it comes home, to find its bowl   
empty—then the numberless
things for which to be grateful dissolve
like the steam from a fire just doused with water
on a day of overcast grays, lined
by a cold slanting rain—
                                     it is October, that season when Death   
goes public, costumed, when the talking heads
on the TV screen float up smiling at the terrible
news, their skin alight with the same strange glow
fish give off when they have been dead a week or more,   
as the gas company adds odor for warning
that the lines may be leaking, the sweet smell of disaster   
hanging, invisible, in the air, a moment
before you strike the match—

it is then, brother, that I think of you, of your Caravaggio,   
of the head of Goliath swung by its hair,
wearing the artist’s own weary expression,
exhausted of everything but its desire
for that beautiful David he used to be; and I think   
of all the boys walking the streets
each carrying the severed head of the man
he will become—and the way I bear it is
to think of you, grinning, riding high in the cart leaving   
the scene, a pair of huge horses hauling the wagon,   
a fine mist rising from their damp shoulders,   
unconcerned with what hangs, nailed
to the museum walls—luckily
the fall of Icarus has nothing to do with them,   
nor the ruined Goliath who fell like a forest,
nor the wretched Salomes with their blood-splattered   
platters, nor the huge stone griffins sobbing
at the gates to Valhalla as the litters are carried past ...

the dark eyes of the horses are opaque with wisdom,
their hoofs strike the pavements with such a musical decision,   
the derisive curl of their lips is so like the mysterious   
smile on the angel at Chartres, on Kuan Yin, on the dolphin,   
as they pull the cart safe through the blizzards   
of Main Street, the snow slowly swallowing the signs   
though the crossing light beckons—
a soft glowing green like some spectral Eden   
in the blank white swirl of the storm.

The stallion neighs once, sends a warm cloud   
of breath into the snow-filled air,
and the mare isn’t scared yet—at least   
she’s still pulling. There’s a barn out there   
somewhere, as they plow through the light’s   
yellow aura of caution, its warm glow
foretelling what hides in the storm:
a stall full of gold, where the soul—
that magician—can wallow
and winter in straw.

Eleanor Wilner, “Facing Into It” from Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Eleanor Wilner. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Eleanor Wilner b. 1937

Subjects Fall, Nature

 Eleanor  Wilner


Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975).  Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Fall, Nature

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.