you gave me in secret one thing to perceive

Posted by on November 10, 2010


by Franz Wright

The only animal that commits suicide
went for a walk in the park,
basked on a hard bench
in the first star,
traveled to the edge of space
in an armchair
while company quietly
talked, and abruptly
the room empty.

The only animal that cries
that takes off its clothes
and reports to the mirror, the one
and only animal
that brushes its own teeth–


the only animal that smokes a cigarette,
that lies down and flies backward in time,
that rises and walks to a book
and looks up a word
heard the telephone ringing
in the darkness downstairs and decided
to answer no more.

And I understand,
too well: how many times
have I made the decision to dwell
from now on
in the hour of my death
(the space I took up here
scarlessly closing like water)
and said I’m never coming back,
and yet

this morning
I stood once again
in this world, the garden
ark and vacant
tomb of what
I can’t imagine,
between twin eternities,
some sort of wings,
more or less equidistantly
exiled from both,
hovering in the dreaming called
being awake, where
You gave me
in secret one thing
to perceive, the
tall blue starry
strangeness of being
here at all.

* * *
A friend sent me this poem recently, which was really kind, because it’s a great poem. I have been slack on exploring new poetry lately and preoccupied, so it is certainly convenient to be sent a great poem and spared the work of finding one. Plus, I happened to have this great coordinating animal picture handy from the photos I took on Halloween.

The llama’s expression is so shrewd and knowing. His one eyeball seems to be saying: “What kind of ridiculous creatures dress up their young on Halloween and then make them pose for a picture?” Well, Mr. Llama, only one kind of creature does this, as far as I know.

Last week I was knocked down by the flu for forty-eight hours. Whenever that happens, I tend to lie in bed and think about my own mortality and what it would mean to leave this world permanently. I cry over everyone and think about my mom and dad a lot. I feel the desire to ask forgiveness from anyone I’ve harmed or disappointed or failed to love properly. I think about my responsibility to my godsons and, this time, even thought about a letter I might write to them if I were indeed dying. I consider all of this a good thing, since according to the saints we are supposed to live in constant remembrance of death. But since I am not so spiritually advanced in my hours of wellness, illness is a good time for me to catch up on all of this contemplation of death. Then it is much easier to imagine “the space I took up here closing scarlessly like water.”

Because my life is so small, and only a handful of people would actually remember and miss me if I died. But God “raised me from my bed of illness,” which is another way of saying that I have more work to do in this life, at least as of today. I have more time as queen over my small realm. My daughters still have a mother to prevent their hair from turning into dreadlocks, see to their consumption of healthy fats and toss a couple of hopeful vegetables onto their plates, to make sure that they have a least one pair of mary janes to wear on Sunday, to deliver a steady pile of folded laundry to the roof of the doll house, and generally lend them my lap when they need a lap to fling themselves upon. And I have another day to change and learn and know myself, to air out and integrate all the inner rooms of the castle of my existence. Maybe it’s not too late to get all those rooms functioning again and the air circulating well throughout. Beyond all of this there lies, let’s see, everything else that is not my concern. I do better to ignore all the rumors and hearsay about the choices, behaviors and opinions of rulers of the gardens and tombs beyond my borders.

Poetry Wednesday

  1. Beth
    November 10, 2010

    Julia this is a beautiful, thought-provoking post. Sometimes we do have to be knocked down, miserable as that is, to glean a clearer vision of what is really necessary.

    "And I have another day to change and learn and know myself, to air out and integrate all the inner rooms of the castle of my existence. "

    Thank God for His mercy.

  2. Kris Livovich
    November 11, 2010

    We are a strange animal, aren't we? Sometimes I wish we were more straight forward, like llamas or dogs or fish – life would be easier, our purpose more quickly mapped.

  3. Jenny Schroedel
    November 11, 2010


    That last paragraph left me breathless. The poem, also, is powerful…thanks for reminding me that it is still time–there is still time–to learn to be queen over my own small realm.

  4. Molly Sabourin
    November 12, 2010

    Yes, I agree with Jenny. That last paragraph, Julia, is really something else. I truly savored it. Brilliant post. You are so lovely. I am blessed to have you as a friend.