Leave It Behind

Poetry by Emily Raabe


Darwin in the Andes

All day today I’ve felt lucky – time is nice
instead of a yawning tunnel, the dog sighs
in her sleep at my feet, food is warm and eaten
off the good plates. I know I will pay

for this abundance when afternoon looms
like a bony forearm thrown across
the beginning of the moon, ill portent,
animal dead in the road –

no matter. This morning in my reading
Darwin found the Andes, climbed higher
than his shipmates to the fossils of the sea things
in the cliffs, lifted his face to blue

and did not panic, as I believe he will
in later days, journey over and infirmities
besetting him, God too close to be forgotten
and the creatures in a museum

in London, packed in cotton and smelling of rot.
Let Darwin have his day
in the Andes, the first flush of freedom
from salvation upon him, the world revealing

its face in the thin air like green over the choppy sea.
Let me have my small pleasures; love
in the afternoon, the dog who cries to go out
and is let out, the words who arrive

like mysteries, like the gift of a bone-white
shell in rock four thousand feet above the sea,
silence leading into silence, the Englishman
who slips his god from the Ark

and senses only that the wind is fresh
and up today, and feels only the weight
of the spiraled things in his hands
and the ache in his legs from climbing so far.

My best dream

goes like this: two fields,
cut by a thin line of trees.

In the dream I’m at the line
when the storm comes in.

I dig a ditch in the dark
In the snow in the dream

and get in, and then
the animals arrive—

long noses, soft bodies,
raccoons maybe, deer,

bears, all the creatures
with night eyes

climb into my ditch
with deliberation, settle

their tails, snouts, paws,
speckled haunches

around and over me
so we are cuddled in

like kit fox kittens in a den.
There is no fear of freezing

in this dream, no muttered
counting off of time

because everything is here,
has arrived on padded feet

with something like love
in that that it is the absence

of distance. We rest
warm in the sleep

we fear to allow ourselves,
not even on the darkest night,

not even with the snow
falling fast oh fast, and animals

so unafraid that they sleep
unfurled in your arms.

The dream, you understand me,
was a gift, but it came

with a price. I sleep each night
with my palms up,

and wake
each morning alone.

An old story

Jesus called up Lazarus
and it was amazing!
Crowds of people stood around

to watch him re-appear.
Jesus said, “Lazarus,” which meant
your body, and so the body

came forth; named-body, name-
of-body, body still blurry with dirt.
Lazarus woke in the body

but something had changed.
His youngest child no longer knew him,
his dog growled at him in the door,

suddenly he hated fish. At night
when he entered the warm body
of his wife, who had fasted and wept

without stopping for three days
and nights, Lazarus felt something
slipping, as though his body

were rolling over the edges of the earth,
as though the earth itself
was not at all as it displayed itself

but instead was something rounded
and unknowable.
Lazarus began to drink at night

staying out late until his name
slid away. His neighbors carried him home,
bleary and weeping, his robes dragging

in the dust. His skinny dog
crouched in the doorway, moving easily
when Lazarus swung a clumsy foot —

dumb beast, it didn’t even run
but sat just out of reach
with its tongue out, laughing.

Rain is black and white, like a photograph

It has a long memory, but cannot tell
its own stories: green river, gritty
run-off, black water in a lake.
Now, like the dead, it is all one thing.
Like the dead it crowds
the windows, even as we think
that we are looking out.
All this changes, we admit, gesturing
at the window where even now
the rain is beating harder
than it was this morning.
But we whisper to ourselves, I remain
the same. Rain pounds
on the skylight, washes helplessly
from the point of the roof to the ground
like a singular thing.

The hinge

The bat on the table has the face of a baby,
button nose and round brown eyes
when he thumbs them open. It’s June twenty-two
in the Downs, the longest day of the year.

The knees are indeed backwards, made
to bend behind the bat, walking sticks
for hanging upside-down. Darwin says
articulus, but once again, it’s what we don’t know

that will find us, and the word, which also means
a hinge, takes fire as it leaves his mouth
on this night, the pivot in the ancient solar year.
The body, he muses, looks familiar,

but as in a tale to frighten children,
the fingers as long as the nightmare hair
on the fairy-tale baby, the tiny, clutching
feet not palm like bear or toe like fox,

the leathered reach unfeathered wings
as in a dream of hovering, poised forever
between flight and ground. Articulus,
the scientist murmurs, England’s

own magician of shells and bones.
The study darkens for a moment as if night
has been pulled in with a drawstring,
light gone red at the window, the creak

in the house the rusty hinge of the year persuaded.
Upstairs, Emma is weeping.
She creases again the letter she has written
that tells her husband there are things

we cannot see and simply must believe,
describes her incurable grief if I thought
we did not belong to each other forever,
her faith
a pebble carried always in her mouth.

Darwin notes his findings in the number
seven notebook. Emma folds
the coverlet back for night.
The doubled-jointed envoy on the table

stirs and whiskers out the window,
the light of a thousand bonfires pricked
in its eyes. Fingertips slip the sky
on the dotted line, breaking the seal between

the dark door waiting and the neighbor’s
terrified pets; messenger not skin or wing
but something in between, like between
the window and the frame, the humans

and the silent world that waits,
the yellow space that brightens briefly
for the truly watchful just before
the door is gently, firmly closed.