Galway Kinnell died last Tuesday at the age of 87. He was the first poet my husband introduced to me (through his many poetry books) some 30 years ago as we were beginning the journey of learning about each other. Before bed we used to read to each other. Kinnell’s words were often the ones I fell asleep to.
“After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”
For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.
Galway Kinnell, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.
“Another Night in the Ruins”
In the evening
haze darkening on the hills,
purple of the eternal,
a last bird crosses over,
‘flop flop,’ adoring
only the instant.
Nine years ago,
in a plane that rumbled all night
above the Atlantic,
I could see, lit up
by lightning bolts jumping out of it,
a thunderhead formed like the face
of my brother, looking down
lightning-flashed moments of the Atlantic.
He used to tell me,
“What good is the day?
On some hill of despair
you kindle can light the great sky—
though it’s true, of course, to make it burn
you have to throw yourself in …”
Wind tears itself hollow
in the eaves of these ruins, ghost-flute
that build out there in the dark:
into which night sweeps
our cast wings, our ink-spattered feathers.
I hear nothing. Only
the cow, the cow of such
down the bones.
Is that a
thrashes in the snow
for a grain. Finds
flames. Flaps. Crows.
bursting out of his brow.
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
to open ourselves, to be
Galway Kinnell, “Another Night in the Ruins” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.