—After Dante: Paradiso
How, but by forgetting, can I leave
the yellow brightness of the center,
the white rose raveling beauty?
I who grew brighter even in its shadow
must turn earthward now,
cooling like a cloud.
That white, lost flower rests in my skin
like a shape on the distorted, moving water,
which the water does not see.
The shape and noise of the world returns:
the calls, the changes like a thudding of stairs.
After radiant stars, the eloquent hardness of a wall.
I touch it with blank, soft hands,
the sounds in the underlying wood
like a creaking of bridges.
The night lifts its black and crooked sigh.
The old confusion is above me, close as a clamor of beaks,
its meanness striving like a windmill.
What used to comfort with its distance, its lack of odor
or a shadow, its yaw of unkempt stories—
now is real. More real after my nearness to the light.
The light of the earth is to the left and small
as I go forward, and I must
love that cold which reaches out to me.
Though I am colder here, and dimmer,
I will stand, a beast with the moon around him
hitting the ground like bird strikes, with a dead light.
I will tell them the symmetrical story
with stinging and struggle, a beauty with noise
and falling. And I will love them as I tell it.
Patricia Nelson is a former attorney who now volunteers with an environmental organization. She worked for many years with the “Activist” group of poets in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Artwork, Isolated, by Jenn Zed.