What the End Is For

By Jorie Graham b. 1950 Jorie Graham

[Grand Forks, North Dakota]

A boy just like you took me out to see them,
      the five hundred B-52’s on alert on the runway,   
fully loaded fully manned pointed in all the directions,
      running every minute
of every day.
      They sound like a sickness of the inner ear,

where the heard foams up into the noise of listening,
      where the listening arrives without being extinguished.   
The huge hum soaks up into the dusk.
      The minutes spring open. Six is too many.
From where we watch,
      from where even watching is an anachronism,

from the 23rd of March from an open meadow,
      the concertina wire in its double helix   
designed to tighten round a body if it turns
      is the last path the sun can find to take out,   
each barb flaring gold like a braille being read,
      then off with its knowledge and the sun   
is gone....

That’s when the lights on all the extremities, like an outline, like a dress,
      become loud in the story,   
and a dark I have not seen before
      sinks in to hold them one   
by one.
      Strange plot made to hold so many inexhaustible
screams.
      Have you ever heard in a crowd mutterings of
blame

that will not modulate that will not rise?
      He tells me, your stand-in, they stair-step up.   
He touches me to have me look more deeply
      in
to where for just a moment longer
      color still lives:
the belly white so that it looks like sky, the top
      some kind of brown, some soil—How does it look

from up there now
      this meadow we lie on our bellies in, this field Iconography   
tells me stands for sadness
      because the wind can move through it uninterrupted?   
What is it the wind
      would have wanted to find and didn’t

leafing down through this endless admiration unbroken   
      because we’re too low for it
to find us?
      Are you still there for me now in that dark   
we stood in for hours
      letting it sweep as far as it could down over us   
unwilling to move, irreconcilable? What he
      wants to tell me,

his whisper more like a scream
      over this eternity of engines never not running,   
is everything: how the crews assigned to each plane
      for a week at a time, the seven boys, must live   
inseparable,
      how they stay together for life,
how the wings are given a life of
      seven feet of play,

how they drop practice bombs called shapes over Nevada,   
      how the measures for counterattack in air   
have changed and we
      now forego firepower for jamming, for the throwing
of false signals. The meadow, the meadow hums, love, with the planes,   
      as if every last blade of grass were wholly possessed

by this practice, wholly prepared. The last time I saw you,   
      we stood facing each other as dusk came on.
I leaned against the refrigerator, you leaned against the door.
      The picture window behind you was slowly extinguished,   
the tree went out, the two birdfeeders, the metal braces on them.
      The light itself took a long time,

bits in puddles stuck like the useless
      splinters of memory, the chips
of history, hopes, laws handed down. Here, hold these he says, these   
      grasses these
torn pods, he says, smiling over the noise another noise, take these
      he says, my hands wrong for

the purpose, here,
      not-visible-from-the-sky, prepare yourself with these, boy and   
bouquet of
      thistleweed and wort and william and
timothy. We stood there. Your face went out a long time   
      before the rest of it. Can’t see you anymore I said. Nor I,
you, whatever you still were
      replied.
When I asked you to hold me you refused.
      When I asked you to cross the six feet of room to hold me

you refused. Until I
      couldn’t rise out of the patience either any longer   
to make us
      take possession.
Until we were what we must have wanted to be:   
      shapes the shapelessness was taking back.
Why should I lean out?
      Why should I move?
When the Maenads tear Orpheus limb from limb,   
      they throw his head

out into the river.
      Unbodied it sings
all the way downstream, all the way to the single ocean,   
      head floating in current downriver singing,
until the sound of the cataracts grows,
      until the sound of the open ocean grows and the voice.

Jorie Graham, “What the End Is For” from The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994. Copyright © 1995 by Jorie Graham. Used with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1995)

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Poet Jorie Graham b. 1950

Subjects Mythology & Folklore, Arts & Sciences, War & Conflict, Nature, The Body, Heroes & Patriotism, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Music, Spring

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 Jorie  Graham

Biography

One of the most celebrated poets of the American post-war generation, Jorie Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts (1980), Erosion (1983), The End of Beauty (1987), Region of Unlikeness (1991), The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1992 (1995) winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Never (2002), Sea Change (2008), and Place (2012), among others. Born in New . . .

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SUBJECT Mythology & Folklore, Arts & Sciences, War & Conflict, Nature, The Body, Heroes & Patriotism, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Music, Spring

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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