I think of you in that sea of graves beyond the city,
where many stones have been left, among them,
mine: a little piece of dolomite to weigh down a slip of paper.
I would have put your gloves and umbrella in the coffin,
along with one more morning in Berlin with Tanya, an hour
of pigeons rising around you, lilacs wrapped in news
stories, a minute at the barricades, another riding
on your father’s shoulders through the garlic fields, even cigarettes
left over from the occupation I would have placed there.
Instead, this notebook, a pen full of ink, and that short
poem by Hölderlin you loved, so you could go up in smoke
together: you, the notebook, the pen, the poem by Hölderlin.
In the aftermath, you are emulsion on paper, a corpse listening beneath
the ground to a train passing through a polaroid of clouds.
It was Joseph who said that for all eternity, Venice would happen only once.
You are a ghost then, following a ghost back through its only life.
Or as you say now: there were many cities, but never a city twice.
Toward the End
In this archipelago of thought a fog descends, horns of ships to unseen
ships, a year
passing overhead, the cry of a year not knowing where, someone standing
in the aftermath
who once you knew, the one you were then, a little frisson of recognition,
and then just like that—gone, and no one for hours, a sound you thought
but in the waking darkness is not heard again, two sharp knocks on the
it was, you said, but now nothing, the islands, places you have been, the sea
full of ghosts calling out, lost as they are, no one you knew in your life, the
the whole of it, like the light at the bottom of a well opening in iced air
where you have gone under and come back, light, no longer tethered
to your own past, and were it not for the weather of trance, of haze and
murk, you could see
everything at once: all the islands, every moment you have lived or place
you have been,
without confusion or bafflement, and you would be one person. You would
be one person again.
From In the Lateness of the World: Poems by Carolyn Forché, published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Forché.