Feel Me To Do Right

May Swenson (1913 – 1989)

The summer that I was ten – Can it be there was only one summer that I was ten? It must have been a long one then.

May Swenson

That The Soul May Wax Plump

by May Swenson

“He who has reached the highest degree of
emptiness will be secure in repose.”
A Taoist saying

My dumpy little mother on the undertaker’s slab
had a mannequin’s grace. From chin to foot
the sheet outlined her, thin and tall. Her face
uptilted, bloodless, smooth, had a long smile.
Her head rested on a block under her nape,
her neck was long, her hair waved, upswept. But later,
at “the viewing,” sunk in the casket in pink tulle,
an expensive present that might spoil, dressed
in Eden’s green apron, organdy bonnet on,
she shrank, grew short again, and yellow. Who
put the gold-rimmed glasses on her shut face, who
laid her left hand with the wedding ring on
her stomach that really didn’t seem to be there
under the fake lace?

Mother’s work before she died was self-purification,
a regimen of near starvation, to be worthy to go
to Our Father, Whom she confused (or, more aptly, fused)
with our father, in Heaven long since. She believed
in evacuation, an often and fierce purgation,
meant to teach the body to be hollow, that the soul
may wax plump. At the moment of her death, the wind
rushed out from all her pipes at once. Throat and rectum
sang together, a galvanic spasm, hiss of ecstasy.
Then, a flat collapse. Legs and arms flung wide,
like that female Spanish saint slung by the ankles
to a cross, her mouth stayed open in a dark O. So,
her vigorous soul whizzed free. On the undertaker’s slab,
she lay youthful, cool, triumphant, with a long smile.


 

Feel Me

By May Swenson 
 
“Feel me to do right,” our father said on his deathbed.
We did not quite know—in fact, not at all—what he meant.
His last whisper was spent as through a slot in a wall.
He left us a key, but how did it fit? “Feel me
to do right.” Did it mean that, though he died, he would be felt
through some aperture, or by some unseen instrument
our dad just then had come to know? So, to do right always,
we need but feel his spirit? Or was it merely his apology
for dying? “Feel that I do right in not trying,
as you insist, to stay on your side. There is the wide
gateway and the splendid tower, and you implore me
to wait here, with the worms!”
 
Had he defined his terms, and could we discriminate
among his motives, we might have found out how to “do right”
before we died—supposing he felt he suddenly knew
what dying was. “You do wrong because you do not feel
as I do now” was maybe the sense. “Feel me, and emulate
my state, for I am becoming less dense—I am feeling right
for the first time.” And then the vessel burst,
and we were kneeling around an emptiness.
 
We cannot feel our father now. His power courses through us,
yes, but he—the chest and cheek, the foot and palm,
the mouth of oracle—is calm. And we still seek
his meaning. “Feel me,” he said, and emphasized that word.
Should we have heard it as a plea for a caress—
a constant caress, since flesh to flesh was all that we
could do right if we would bless him?
The dying must feel the pressure of that question—
lying flat, turning cold from brow to heel—the hot
cowards there above protesting their love, and saying,
“What can we do? Are you all right?” While the wall opens
and the blue night pours through. “What can we do?
We want to do what’s right.”
 
“Lie down with me, and hold me, tight. Touch me. Be
with me. Feel with me. Feel me to do right.”

And We Want More

May Swenson (1913 – 1989)

The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivety, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness, is necessary to the making of a poem.

May Swenson

July 4th 

 
by May Swenson
 
Gradual bud and bloom and seedfall speeded up
are these mute explosions in slow motion.
From vertical shoots above the sea, the fire
flowers open, shedding their petals. Black waves,
turned more than moonwhite, pink ice, lightning blue, 
echo our gasps of admiration as they crash 
and hush. Another bush ablaze snicks straight up. 
A gap like heartstop between the last vanished
particle and the thuggish boom. And the thuggish 
boom repeats in stutters from sandhill hollows 
in the shore. We want more. A twirling sun, 
or dismembered chrysanthemum bulleted up, leisurely
bursts, in an instant timestreak is suckswooped
back to its core. And we want more: red giant,
white dwarf, black hole dense, invisible, all in one.
 
 

July

by Henry Allen

July 4th fireworks jar American nights,
shells chugging upwards to snap/crackle/pop
amid the wistful smoke. Bright sounds! Loud lights!
Next day, July starts. Will it ever stop?
So very big, so lonely, like high plains
beneath a canopy of glare, a herd
beneath a tree, first thoughts of hurricanes
and Pickett’s “Charge!”—the Lost Cause in one word.
July is lilies in a dry, hard shade,
a disembodied triumph under superskies,
a month of lidlessness and lemonade,
of radiant boulevards and empty eyes.
July: Augustan mixed with Junoesque,
a half-baked poet sleeping at his desk.