Monday, March 1, 2010


The First Night

The worst thing about death must be
the first night.
—Juan Ramón Jiménez

Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that
day and night
would continue to circle each other
in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun
and a moon and will the dead gather
to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be
the only night,

a darkness for which we have
no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary
in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge
of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words
will cease.

Even now, reading you on this
trellised porch, how can I describe a sun
that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s
day-moon, to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these
small leaves, these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.

-Billy Collins

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