Sunday, February 01, 2009

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, I was an English literature major, first at Calvin and then at the University of South Carolina. For whatever reason, the one poem that resonated loudly within me was "The Hospital Window" by James Dickey. I still remember sitting in my Modern Poetry class and feeling as if I could have written the poem, an almost deja vu feeling. Little did I know that the deja vu was in reverse and was more of a foreshadowing of things to come. I am not being morbid, merely reflecting on the fact that poetry can encapsulate experiences. I understood then and understand more now the words of this poem. It happened that James Dickey was the poet in residence at the University of South Carolina when I was there. I often rode the same elevator with him in the English building. I often wish I had told him how much I loved his poem.

The Hospital Window

I have just come down from my father.
Higher and higher he lies
Above me in a blue light
Shed by a tinted window.
I drop through six white floors
And then step out onto pavement.

Still feeling my father ascend,
I start to cross the firm street,
My shoulder blades shining with all
The glass the huge building can raise.
Now I must turn round and face it,
And know his one pane from the others.

Each window possesses the sun
As though it burned there on a wick.
I wave, like a man catching fire.
All the deep-dyed windowpanes flash,
And, behind them, all the white rooms
They turn to the color of Heaven.

Ceremoniously, gravely, and weakly,
Dozens of pale hands are waving
Back, from inside their flames.
Yet one pure pane among these
Is the bright, erased blankness of nothing.
I know that my father is there,

In the shape of his death still living.
The traffic increases around me
Like a madness called down on my head.
The horns blast at me like shotguns,
And drivers lean out, driven crazy—
But now my propped-up father

Lifts his arm out of stillness at last.
The light from the window strikes me
And I turn as blue as a soul,
As the moment when I was born.
I am not afraid for my father—
Look! He is grinning; he is not

Afraid for my life, either,
As the wild engines stand at my knees
Shredding their gears and roaring,
And I hold each car in its place
For miles, inciting its horn
To blow down the walls of the world

That the dying may float without fear
In the bold blue gaze of my father.
Slowly I move to the sidewalk
With my pin-tingling hand half dead
At the end of my bloodless arm.
I carry it off in amazement,

High, still higher, still waving,
My recognized face fully mortal,
Yet not; not at all, in the pale,
Drained, otherworldly, stricken,
Created hue of stained glass.
I have just come down from my father.


Bubs said...

Wow. I've never seen this before. Thank you for posting it.

Dale said...

That's truly excellent. Poetry can perfectly encapsulate. You should write something about your ups and downs in the elevator :-)