~ . ~ . ~

Joan Fiset

September 1, 1939
W. H. Auden

the glory fallen out of
e. e. cummings

~ . ~ . ~


Joan Fiset

In the unsheltered cool of June we remember the rest of it. Talking was always difficult; at best it came in halting incoherent breaths. The sound of the pavement was in it, and sun over the raw dirt piled behind the unfinished houses. But it was never conversation with coffee and someone listening. We tried to understand each other. How odd, when you think of it, the most essential memory merely watching your shadow and hearing cement trucks grind while Mrs. Hutchins carried her mop and bucket as if they were part of a ceremony, a ritual involving others, and not that loneliness where everyone passed without speaking, the reason for wanting to talk about it now.

* * *

Everything keeps us from it; the laundry, ironing, piles of papers wanting to be filed and ordered into quiet breathing and over the roof safe sky yes, and the star and moon. We never reach you, but keep walking through the work to the window where we know you are waiting, if only the flowers are planted and someday the old lawn mowed.

We could begin with this. A woman is walking toward a house. Her hands are chapped and her face contains a private bewilderment. This is the map you cannot follow Who named this town? For her it is the next road and then turn left. The house at the end is where she lives. It will never change, and she is forever walking toward it.

But we are not ready for her yet. Try the wallpaper. Do you see the green and white stripes, and the thin silver stripe almost hidden between them? It is elegant and clean. You can smell mint behind it, and downstairs in the dining room, the pattern repeats, the woman on a swing and man kneeling before her; they wear white powdered wigs and not far away there is a bridge over a stream.

* * *

Over there is a curtain. Walking toward it I am reminded of all the reasons for never writing about it before. As long as it stays drawn the room is musty and remains the same. A bowl of potatoes in the corner, their eyes have grown to tentacles searching for something. A goblet on the table, crystal and longing for wine. This is the house of alcohol. It is the only reason for getting up in the morning. Did you say learning how to tie your shoe? Books from the library, measuring tapes and cardboard for the project? No, you did not say any of this for you have no voice. The silence is heard by the children here, for in the absence of these other words there are many hours to fill. This is a subterranean atmosphere, bats and winding tunnels. All the stairs go down. No one is home. This is our house. Try pulling the curtain back. What you hear are only wings. Or is it the children coming in?

If the smoke bothers you stop breathing then and begin to tell them the way the weather seems, starting to rain. Their cigarettes are candles for the house of smoke. They are the prayer bowls and the reason for sitting here pretending you can see their faces. In a shroud of smoke the window begins to cough and fracture. The lies of splintering glass are fine as veins and you try looking out of the window only to see your face going in different directions, and sliced apart.

* * *

Alcohol is friendly, and the warm cook keeps stirring the soup. Her white apron and basket of eggs are all the comfort you need. You tell yourself she is in the room whenever the bottle enters filling the spaces around you, taking up the best seat, leaving you looking for the woman. She is visiting a neighbor now. Call her on the phone. Tell her: It's time for you to return because he's here again and I don't know what to do. I am the only one in the room except for him, and I want you to come back. I'll do anything if you do; I'll hold my breath until I hear you at the door.

* * *

It is evening. Does that startle you, cause you to turn away and pretend you never saw it? That's a big job, ignoring evening, and right from the time it first begins, in early afternoon, when the light shifts slightly and only you notice. Other people have something to do. They mail letters, water the garden, read books and discover new theories. You have a mind but it cannot concentrate on anything except this light turning as the water turns inevitably toward the rapids, toward the sheer cliff down which it falls beautifully into spray and foam. This descent begins again at noon, at lunchtime. Soup is half a sandwich. It doesn't matter what kind of soup or if it's tuna or turkey on rye or wheat. We are only looking down river. You think we just don't care. We do.

* * *

What could make it better, could rub your back and tuck you in? The old bear is warm and the curtain blows only a little in the wind. There is a night light in the outlet, a pink shell glowing in case you wake up. The sheets smell sweet with sun and downstairs you hear voices, people talking and laughing. At first you try to understand what they are saying, but then their voices combine into a drone of bees. You drift off to sleep hearing them downstairs. You look at the pink shell and listen to the voices. It is safe and you are a child. The light fades into a dream you cannot follow with your daylight mind. White doors everywhere, all opening for you. In every doorway a woman. All have the same face. She smiles and you are where you always wanted to be returning, after school. It is afternoon and you are looking up a new subject. There is more to learn than you ever guessed. And you are ready to begin. Not with facts, but beginning to grasp something outside your house. This is the safe dream. This is how it feels to be sleeping in the house with voices downstairs, only you are awake and turning pages one by one.

From Now The Day Is Over (Blue Begonia Press, Yakima, WA, 1997), winner of the 1997 King County Arts Commission Book Award. Joan Fiset lives in Seattle. Other work by Fiset appears in the magazine's Vietnam War issue (June 2001).


~ . ~

September 1, 1939
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)


I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyskrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-theeet
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


~ . ~

the glory is fallen out of
e. e. cummings (1894-1962)

the glory is fallen out of
the sky the last immortal

dead and the gold
a formal spasm
in the

this is the passing of all shining things
therefore we also

into receptive
earth, O let

shimmering wind
these fragile splendors from
us crumple them hide

them in thy breath drive
them in nothingness
for we
would sleep
this is the passing of all shining things
no lingering no backward -
wondering be unto
us O

soul, but straight
glad feet fearrunning
and glorygirded

lead us
into the


(R. M. Engelhardt, a well-known Albany poet, offered this cummings poem, saying, Strangely enough, the day after the towers were destroyed and the world came apart I was studying the work of my favorite poet. I opened his book of collected poems to this. It was as though he was trying to speak [not just] to me, but to everyone. So here is his opportunity.Take care and peace be with you.)