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When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone

When one has lived a long time alone,
one refrains from swatting the fly
and lets him go, and one is slow to strike
the mosquito, though more than willing to slap
the flesh under her, and one hoists the toad
from the pit too deep to hop out of
and carries him to the grass, without minding
the poisoned urine he slicks his body with,
and one envelops, in a towel, the swift
who fell down the chimney and knocks herself
against window glass, and releases her outside
and watches her fly free, a life line flung at reality,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
one grabs the snake behind the head
and holds him until he stops trying to stick
the orange tongue—which forks at the end
into black filaments and flashes out
like a fire-eater's breaths and bears little
resemblance to the pimpled pink lump
that mostly dozes inside the human mouth—
into one's flesh, and clamps it between his jaws,
letting the gaudy tips show, as children do
when concentrating, and as very likely
one does oneself, without knowing it,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
among regrets so immense the past occupies
nearly all the room there is in consciousness,
one notices in the snake's eyes, which see behind
without giving any less attention to the future,
the opaque, milky-blue cloudiness that comes
when the snake is about to throw its skin
and become new—meanwhile continuing,
of course, to grow old—the same bleu passé
that bleaches the corneas of the blue-eyed
when they lie back at the end and look for heaven,
a fading one suspects means they don't find it,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
one falls to poring upon a creature,
contrasting its eternity's-face to one's own
full of hours, taking note of the differences,
exaggerating them, making them everything,
until the other is utterly other, and then,
with hard effort, probably with tongue sticking out,
going over each difference again and this time
canceling it, until nothing is left but likeness
and suddenly oneness, and . . . minutes later
one starts awake, taken aback at how unresistingly
one drops off into the bliss of kinship,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone
and listens at morning to mourning doves
sound their kyrie eleison, or to the small thing
spiritualizing upon a twig cry, "pewit-phoebe!"
or to grasshoppers scratch their thighs' needfire
awake, or to peabody birds at midday send their
schoolboys' whistlings across the field, and at dusk,
their undamped chinks, as from marble cutters' chisels,
or at nightfall to polliwogs just rearranged into frogs
raise their ave verum corpus—listens to those
who hop or fly call down upon us the mercy
of other tongues—one hears them as inner voices,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
one knows that consciousness consummates,
and as the most self-conscious one among these
others uttering their seemingly compulsory cries—
the least flycatcher witching up "che-bec!"
or red-headed woodpecker clanging out his tunes
from a metal roof gutter, or ruffed grouse drumming
"thrump thrump thrump thrump-thrump-
deep in the woods, all of them in time's unfolding
trying to cry themselves into self-knowing—
one knows one is here to hear them into shining,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
one likes alike the pig, who brooks no deferment
of gratification, and the porcupine, or thorned pig,
who enters the cellar but not the house itself
because of eating down the cellar stairs on the way up,
and one likes the worm, who by bunching herself together
and expanding works her way through the ground,
no less than the butterfly, who totters full of worry
among the day lilies as they darken,
and more and more one finds one likes
any other species better than one's own,
which has gone amok, making one self-estranged,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
sour, misanthropic, one fits to one's defiance
the satanic boast, It is better to reign
in hell than to submit on earth
, and forgets
one's kind—the way by now the snake does,
who stops trying to get to the floor and lingers
all across one's body, slumping into its contours,
adopting its temperature—and abandons hope
of the sweetness of friendship or love,
before long can barely remember what they are,
and covets the stillness of inorganic matter,
in a self-dissolution one may not know how to halt,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
and the hermit thrush calls and there is an answer,
and the bullfrog head half out of water utters
the cantillations he sang in his first spring,
and the snake lowers himself over the threshold
and creeps away among the stones, one sees
they all live to mate with their kind, and one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward these other kingdoms,
the hard prayer inside one's own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one's own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone,
one wants to live again among men and women,
to return to that place where one's ties with the human
broke, where the disquiet of death and now also
of history glimmers its firelight on faces,
where the gaze of the new baby meets the gaze
of the great granny, and where lovers speak,
on lips blowsy from kissing, that language
the same in each mouth, and like birds at daybreak
blether the song that is both earth's and heaven's,
until the sun rises, and they stand
in the daylight of being made one: kingdom come,
when one has lived a long time alone.

Galway Kinnell

Collected Poems
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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