Monday, September 14, 2009

While She's Gone

This morning I read that Jim Carroll passed away from a heart attack. His poem, "Whil She's Gone" is one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever read. Each time I read it, I find a new line, passage, word that again amazes me, sends me chills, has me nod in agreement. I never know what to quote from this because the whole poem is worthy of being quoted. He didn't write it for me, but when I encounter such beautiful language that fits so into your life, I just wanted to say...thanks, Jim.

While She's Gone by Jim Carroll

It's too late to change you with language
Your boundaries are always too narrow, and you bury
Yourself beneath a shallow grave of artifice, flesh and perfection

Look up above the mountain, to the right
Of the castle's turret, that's not a gull
That's a heart.
And of course it's tattered
Swooping too low crossing
The Atlantic to find you, its stomach
Was slit open on the horns of a caribou in Greenland.
Many species of birds have feasted on its eyes.

So, having come this far, I can now barely see you

It's two weeks since you've gone
The fragrance you left
Still remains in this apartment
As if it were bracketed to the wall like a shelf

It remains sweet yet somehow stale
The pressuring scent of expedience

How I hunger to devour it to devour you
Slowly, gently, vicious.

I chew on the pubic hairs you left on the sheet
Like a country boy chews a blade of grass as he walks
Near a pond, skimming flat rocks across the water.

If the angels knew, were kind,
That is where I'd be.

Instead, I have been been sitting down by the Hudson
At the end of the Gansevoort St. Pier
Reading Schiller on the sentimental and naive

Melville was a customs clerk there
The streets are still cobblestone

I'm hoping for an experience that pre-dates you.
For example, being chased by a dragonfly.

What is not perfect, you deign to destroy.
When you find your idea of perfection
You relax on well-cut grass leading down to the stream.

You make a stranger a lover and a lover a stranger
You isolate the curve of longing
Then accelerate the flow.

It becomes the curve of binding energy.

Under different circumstances,
I could admire that.

I keep finding your long straight hairs
In the blankets in the carpet on the arm
Of the chair where you were working
Perfecting your calligraphy
The lavish tyranny of words
Now I watch the red in each long strand shine, twisted
Between my thumb and forefinger in the window light
I tied one around the neck of an alabaster bear
The rest I just continue to drape across the roses
In the wine bottle beside the kitchen window
It's beginning to look like a spider's web. It seems
That each symbol possible, in time, finds its way back to me.

I put my faith in I put my I put mine in I put my faith in you

While it rains outside through the night
Through the twilight of the gods
I want to watch the rain falling with you inside
Inside you I want the rain to fall inside you
Lap the drops that drain
Lost, I remain inside you

When I took off to swim the river last week
I left the wine glass on the table beside my bed
The one you drank from here
Near full with bottled water, as you asked

The capricious symbols are turning cliche and wet

When I got home it was five days later, the humidity
In the city heavy that week but still
When I held it up there was something left, just enough drops
To wash down a pill to fall asleep
Then I filled it again and left it to the sun and defiance
There are times I hate you there is no question
But an unforced grace remains. Your generous silence
With our tongues we could tie the laces of angels,
Light or fallen, no matter
Your thighs moved smoothly as Latino gangsters

It's hard to walk from a love that never ended
The fury is deadly, as if I were locked forever
In a room with movies of bridges collapsing
Too rigid for the quick wind

You see, your leaving occurred without
The foreplay of anxiety which is essential
Before one flies through the window of a car
Out of control

Unprepared, only a certain yet vague prescience which didn't
Seem to concern me much I left it in your hands
As I took you at your word. Now I see the only means
I had to heal the burn was to replay again and again each permutation
In all its bitterness, and illusion.

It becomes tedious
As the tedious becomes essential apparently

Cassandra: that's you incarnate
Sweating the details of a future bliss
As if you could control it

The angels are more confused than ever

For once they call out, and there is no one to listen

You called from a phone by a lake
Deep in the canopy of black forests
The entire country deciduous, leaves rotting
Among the fresh angel skin a heart flown so far, it's fallen
It's grey among the leaves like a dying frog
And, seeing it, you step away, glad you avoided it
I found another of your hairs on the floor
This time I just threw it away it's becoming old

It keeps us from floating away.
yet presses down. We stumble and fall.

I thought dusk was the moment dividing
Night and day, all things possible.
Yet, tonight looking out from this terrace
Twilight is filled only
With red taillights moving away, to bridges or tunnels

Yet always water, above or below, red taillights
And the mercurial sadness of another darkness descending
A thicker gravity. So many lost loves
Your boundaries were too narrow
Everything planned assiduously
Within surgical thin perimeters.

Now and then you would test the borders you defined
But never too far, inside the fear of finding yourself
Even for a moment lost. At times you did
Step beyond, paler slightly from the risk,
To burn in the wilder sun, yet always returning
In time for the mail and the certainty and the phone perhaps

Inside those boundaries assurance and fantasy blur and merge
Inside those boundaries, thought and action become one
Without distinction. Those outside
Get spun, unravel. Your arms shrink in the cause of embrace
What you try to comfort you can no longer reach.

And I've done everything I'm accusing you of.

All the while I was staring straight
Into a wavering blue flame

Among the flaws, I watched
Your necessity bloom

Like careless crawling orchids

So imperceptible
I didn't really notice until the first petal fell
And a strange arboreal wind blew it away

I was always seeing you on the move
As if passing in airport after airport
The smell of jet fuel, vanilla, fancy soap and ambivalence
Without an hour hand, a minute hand emblazoned
On its heat and glow, I could have
Watched the dew in these days reveal you as you opened

Perhaps I could have unveiled my own hesitations, washed the poison
From my lips, held you down by your wrists and watered you
In all resistance. Once again build myself a thirst and drink your overflow

I could have taken you to the dark gods
Still getting us back home on time
To sleep with the anorexic angel
Who I would pin motionless, radiant
Between your breast and my hand
My hand unyielding
Extended outward as light, the light

You learned as you lost it in a single moment

It's months now since you've been gone
And what I feel I'll tell you what it's like
It's like a last glass of Spanish Champagne slipping from my hand
Taking months to reach the carpet

It's like a slow hanging
This city is a scaffold my room's a trapdoor beneath
Not rope but a long red scarf a silk noose
Tightening slightly more day after day

Even now as I type
My feet are dangling a foot or two above the floor
Breathing only through vanity and my fingertips

The time hasn't changed since you left
That moment in front of my building throwing your suitcase
Into the trunk of the cab, a Hindu driver. I check the airport route
He has planned for you. We kiss long and sad and I
Watch you drive slowly off, your head craned back at me
I watched until you turned at 19th St. and were out of sight
Leaning my head to the side and feeling the cool of a marble pillar
Against my cheeks making one last wave one last

I went upstairs, called her, and slept
Forcing myself not to wake until daylight the next day.

You're in Amsterdam.
You know,
If they took those reinforcing beams away
From the old wooden houses along the canals in Holland
They would most likely have fallen into the water by now.

That is your art form
Creating vestiges
Out of lace and lashes.
Everything just fell away.

The bridges over the canal
They're quaint and banal
Tourist boats pass beneath.

I was a tourist

To your body.

Why do you smile so widely in every picture I have of you?
Sometimes it makes me feel like slapping you

In this room everything comes as a whisper.
So what did you say?
Why do I want to know?

Because that's the way it is for me, and always has:
To be amused, bewildered, bemused, and fucked
Without the slightest aspect left out.

I thought I had been floating with the tide easily
These last three years, not looking ahead yet waiting
For some small island
Even a rock would have done
To land on and survey how far I had come
And if it was worth going on

And all the while I now learn you had somehow fixed, shifted the natural flow
And I have been swimming upstream against those vacuumed years.

Salmon are an endangered species
Man, and the paws of black bears

I'm tired too tired for conjunctions.
Having reached land,
Are you worth love in any form?
An old story getting older
You may not possess irony, but you carry it like a silk purse
Now the mute fog rolls in off the river
And I can't speak.
It makes me listen too hard
With an urge to believe.

Why couldn't we find a love in that too-American exhaustion
Melt into each other as the hour that moans

In Europe how you have reached a mountaintop
Whose scent is things dead a thousand years
That is the fragrance of betrayal.
A cologne you took years to create
A chemical pun you mailed me in a white envelope
A white wedding envelope
The chemical wedding of C.R.
Child bride antelope
Collide and elope

This cologne is what you would have me press
In two subtle drops around my neck
Like a noose of splintering tears.

I flew straight through that car window
Without the essential anxiety
And the only way to recover
Is to play it over and over
On a screen too small
For the curve of time in this ward where I have been waiting

It makes everyone a fool, awake and in dreams. I wound up
Loving something I was forced to reinvent, deconstruct
Though I know you so well now
Come to understand your meaning

That's the worth of a lifetime
Everything else collapses
Or repeats often enough to forget

Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us
It's hard to find comfort
In this world.

You brought that to me
That's hard to let go.
Only you and I know only you & I


You have always been so far away
You have always
Been right here


  1. Wow! Just wow. It IS hard to find comfort in this world. One of the reasons we blog?

  2. I was so engrossed reading the poem that I didn't realize how long it was until I scrolled back up to the top. It's so real, yet ethereal at the same time. One of my favorite parts..

    I was always seeing you on the move
    As if passing in airport after airport
    The smell of jet fuel, vanilla, fancy soap and ambivalence

  3. This poem is outstanding. I always wonder what it must feel like to be able to write something like this. To have the ability to express in words what others feel. It really must be an amazing feeling. Thank you so much for posting this. It has become one of my favorites.

  4. I have never been in love but I feel his heartache keenly.

    Quite possibly one of the best poems I have ever come across. Merci.

  5. Do you have an e-mail? I though maybe we can e-mail every once in a while since its hard to communicate via blog comments :)

    My e-mail is capoupas at gmail dot com

    Drop me a line if you have the time.