Unto Ourselves (2)

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Even when we realized we’d stopped, in every
essential way stopped moving forward, when
we came to see we were descending, even more
tightly bound to the vortex
as images rushed by in front of us and a blue
whale rotted on the sand in Bolinas, its stink
drifting southward where dozens of barnacled
forty-foot grays, dead from starvation, began to hulk
against the shore, the white-tufted foreheads
of waves smashing against those
knolls of oily decomposing flesh, it was
everywhere we looked if we cared to look
out over bitesize squares of cheese
and Saintsbury wine into the hum
taking place under a coved moon, or cared to
listen to clumped wild-rye
shushing the dunes
while pulverized rock shrieked along fault lines
in decibels so muted only the soles of our feet,
conducting the ground’s sound
up into our tali, could register what
was happening
right there where our lives had been
cut off from themselves and become something else
drained of substance, steeped in the privilege
against which we protested with those we called
our friends—the ones who lately seemed
to contract backward from our greetings,
giving us to suspect
that they too sensed something askew, the
skip at the center of ourselves or just an
inkling of abyssal unhappiness was it? concentrated
into the early evenings
like one of those spectral white
fallow deer introduced to the headlands
that began to outcompete
native species and so,
before they were slaughtered every one
by hired hunters, inciting
arguments about what was native if
all systems are given to change. Maybe
our ear twitches. Maybe the deer’s ear
twitches. But we still can’t quite
make out in the dimness
what we’re looking at, can we?

Nor is there interim from the tumult of in- coming,
the masticating chores, ping-
pings begging immediate response, the sheer
overabundance of the present
shame which plugs up each minute and stands
in now for whatever it meant
to live oneself before every gesture
became performance for an audience
we imagine never to be finished
with looking at us. And as for the budding-out of
being we’d called passion? or the sensual
moments phrased into our gait
when we were coming to feel something,
when our shadows merged (not as romance,
but the real consequence
of our mutuality) with
shadows of conifers along the steep
ravine, and completely naked and
without relief, the world parsed us
into the inhuman where rosette
lichen surged across rocks lacking nothing
that might be needed to answer
for our existence?

By now, some of us, outmaneuvered by the economy,
were lying around Dolores Park like fallen fruit
waiting to rot. Others found themselves receptive
to a trivial, self-justifying kindness.
What with coral belching up its algae, evaporating stars,
the waking tundra, how could we bear, we wondered to
each other, even the weight of
our own sorry initiatives? Life, someone
countered, is pure gratuitous magnitude. Just
look: the light is there, grace itself. But
it was already noon and as we looked,
the colors of the hills began to blanch,
and all around us, in the field of the visible, we
sensed, without speaking, duration’s ebb.

Forrest Gander’s books include Core Samples from the World, and several books of translation: Fungus Skull Eye Wing: Selected Poems of Alphonso D'Aquino, Watchword by Pura López Colomé, and (with Kyoko Yoshida) Spectacle & Pigsty: Selected Poems of Kiwao Nomura.

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