Still on Delmore Schwartz, but for the first time in any appreciable way we see the poet taking comfort in thoughts of an afterlife: “His sad ghost must aspire / free of my love to its own post, that ghost, / among its fellows, Mozart’s, Bach’s, Delmore’s / free of its careful body.” Well, this seems positive. Then an imagining of heaven goes further: “high in the shades which line that avenue / where I will gladly walk, beloved of one, / and listen to the Buddha.” So, an imagining of peace, an active engagement with the inhabitants of heaven in an afterlife. Finally this: “I hope he’s sitting with his peers: sit, sit, / & recover & be whole.” The voice seems to be moving through the stages of grief toward acceptance, and the acceptance is facilitated by thoughts of heaven, where Delmore Schwartz can sit in peace and finally “recover.”
It does seem to me though that it’s not really a death that’s being imagined. Recover? It does seem like an old, well-travelled take on death: Life is a vale of tears, then when we die our spirits move on unscathed to an eternal, peaceful reward, earned through our suffering back here on Earth. We recover. In Judeo-Christian mythology, we’ve had our shot and our behavior during will determine how we do, reward-wise. In Eastern beliefs, we go round and round, until we sort of evolve our way to Nirvana. Similar concept, it just takes longer. Well, what do I know? I do know that dream-visits from those very close, who have passed away, are a universal human experience. This could be a genuine farewell of a loved one from the afterlife, or it might be the brain fantasizing a comfort from one of its unexplored nether regions. Maybe these are the same thing. It obviously comforts, though, which is what matters. I had that dream-farewell experience just once. It was important emotionally, helping me sort things out. If it really was a message from someone who made it to a peaceful place, then I’m content with knowing that.
I think I smell a poem coming!
That scar on my knee, where I cut my leg
On a neighbor’s tractor, and my throbbing
Back, twisted when I hoisted a canoe
Overhead, then had to choose
In an instant whether to drop it,
Probably smash it, or try to balance
That careening boat, which I did
And paid for with stretched
Ligaments and a bulging disc—
All healed at my turn’s instant.
Hangovers, no tenure
Every one of my broken hearts
Form rejections from harried editors
Working therefore living
At some administrator’s grace—
These injuries fell behind me too,
And I am forever fresh now.
I remember a butterfly
That flew a moment
Into the shambles of my
Days on the ground: A storm-tattered
Swallowtail, which made its weak way
To a soft pink thistle flower
Uncoiled its long tube and drank.
In looking I smelled that
Its heaven was nectar.
A robin may have caught it
Or the next rain washed away
What was left of the colors
On its wings, granting its tired body
To a troop of ants. If that one butterfly
Is up here, I haven’t seen it.
But the memory climbs, arcing
Like a bolt of fragrant lightning
That charges this place
And throws the angels down
To a new awareness,
To a new awareness,
That heaven runs
With the sweetness of nectar
And heaven smells
Like the pink of thistles.