Saturday, August 25, 2012

Foxes Fall to St Francis (repost from 2007)

My housemate's dog sits at my feet; she watches me, seeking my attention. Her silence, I tell myself, is beyond me... her unfathomable otherness..

And then I hear what I have said without speaking--wakened by an association that accompanied this thought, the recollection of a poem by Nancy Willard.

Her unfathomable silence, I tell myself.

It is not what I have seen, but what I have told myself.

Does this mean I was wrong about the silence of the woman pouring milk? HERE

Yes and no. It is true, the silence belongs to the painting, but how is it that I recognize this--? ...having no experience of such silence, my head full of words, a never ending stream of language pouring out of me--to caress, to corrode, to seduce reality to conform to what I need from her? ... needs both acknowledged, and unacknowledged?

I look at this dog... and now at the cat who curls up on my desk, head brushing against hands engaged in turning what is happening before me into words.

And there it is again...

turning what I have already turned into words into words that others can see. Is there no escape from the deceit?

What was it about this poem that so disrupted my unacknowledged account of my perceptions? It occurs to me that what I saw, and see and experience again and again when I open myself to animals, to their presence, to listen and contemplate--that the silence I find so alien, mysterious and not theirs... it is not the animals I am seeing, but a reflection turned back on...

...I cannot say, on my self, for everything of self is fraught with language, and this is what is beyond or beneath or prior to language... it is the self as other. A convergence of my animal being, my species being, by collective, genetic biological material efflorescence into this unique moment of entropic dissolution--a convergence with an illusion whose entire reality is language bound--the illusion of a unique, conscious engagement with...


Silence... again.

That is what I found in Willard's poem. That the silence is never ours, always subverted and betrayed by language... ("he ate only his words") ... and yet, language is the guide. If not our only guide, one we cannot do without, even as it betrays, leading us, drawing us on. Is this what Blanchot was getting at? Our animal lives, ours alone in deepest sleep and death?

Let me work out the connection to these thoughts and the poem in another post.

For now, here is her poem... keep in mind, the title is a play on sports news headlines. From her book, Water Walker, Knoph, 1989

"Foxes Fall to St. Francis"

"Religion," said the foxes,
"is for the birds.

And that man in the brown gown
is a hunter. Watch out."

The sparrows watched him
bake bread and sow crumbs

and the snow kept falling.
He seemed too weak

to make a meal of sparrows
and too dumb.

No claws, no beak
a nest without young.

He trapped roots, berries,

and the snow kept faling
(also the sun).

Many birds drew near
and admired his peculiar singing,

and he kept scattering seeds,
and badgers and hares drew

themselves up
to his stone table.

He ate only his words.
The snow kept falling

on the food,
on the far-off dead,

on paths paved
with mercy.

The foxes said,
"What's good enough for birds

is good enough."
And they fell on the feast

and were saved.

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