Unravelling / Shock

By Nathaniel Tarn b. 1928 Nathaniel Tarn
A hole torn in the fabric of the world,
the web, the whole infernal weave
through which live-giving rain is falling
but mixing with the tears and with the blood.
Dead body-snatchers enter, the mega-corpses,
much in the news these days, enter and grind
bones, flesh and sinews down to dry tree bark,
mixing with tree bark, crawling with the demonic
beetles. They’ll tell it later: “No one expected this”:
not one—patient, doctors, practitioners
of every stripe, no one except the one whose daily
work is close to prophecy, who feels it in his nerves
or in her muscles—where news travels up fast
and lodges in the eyes, all-seeing, all-pervading vision
of disaster. And comes in like a mouse, wee small,
[wee modest, so wee, wee practical,] mouse with big ears
and popping eyes, looking this way and that and not
one tittle-tattle fazed by your huge presence. Later
drowns in a bucket with a lizard: everything drowns
round here getting to water. Not able to get out again.
Thus coming quietly, thus probing, [thus stealing in,]
squatting thus quietly back of the house:
how do the tears well up, well down again,
what makes them well, the seeing eyes know not,
what routes the change parent-to-orphan? Stop.
Orphan-to-parent? Stop. Then back again to tears?
Look out beyond the healthy trees preserved
in a close circle round the house for privacy,
look out the window over hills and dales
of this milagro country, see living green, see dying
brown—on each and every morning mourn the trees.
Criminal imbeciles who run the shows we live in
from top to bottom of their slimy theater, have now
decreed they will not solve the water. Matter of fact,
they will not solve what we are made of—the high
percentage water in all of us compounded. They will not
solve a single problem by the name of life we give
to human business. They will prefer
to dip their steel in blood, to let the semen drip
from off of their steel into the blood and thus contaminate,
infuse with every cancer both body politic and body
not so politic, just private, single, individual—but
gives to other individuals their mien and color. Ghosts
walk the hills and dales between the dying trees.
“Remember now,” they say, with stab at tragic countenance,
[for when can privacy enter into collective?] “those days,
those days you took no notice of, counting them poor,
dispersing them among the memories you could not value
at their true worth, you could not recognize enough to feel:
who knows if these few days, [these very days], were not
those ones we lived together here, the only paradise?”

Nathaniel Tarn, “Unraveling / Shock” from Dying Trees. Copyright © 2003 by Nathaniel Tarn. Reprinted by permission of Nathaniel Tarn.

Source: Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers (New Directions, 2008)

Biography

Editor, anthropologist, translator, and critic Nathaniel Tarn was born in Paris and studied English and history at King’s College, Cambridge, before pursuing anthropology at the Collége de France and the Musée de l’Homme. He attended Yale University and the University of Chicago on a Fulbright grant and studied at the London School of Economics. His first collection of poetry, Old Savage / Young City,was published in 1964, and . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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