Saturday, December 21, 2013

Denise Levertov / Death in Mexico

Cuernavaca, Mexico, 2013
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas
by Denise Levertov

Even two weeks after her fall,
three weeks before she died, the garden
began to vanish. The rickety fence gave way
as it had threatened, and the children threw
broken plastic toys –vicious yellow,
unresonant red, onto the path, into the lemontree;
or trotted in through the gap, trampling small plants.
For two weeks no one watered it, except
I did, twice, but then I left. She was still conscious then
and thanked me. I begged the others to water it-
but the rains began; when I got back there were violent,
sudden, battering downpours each afternoon.
                                                                          Weeds flourished,
dry topsoil was washed away swiftly
into the drains. Oh, there was green, still,
but the garden was disappearing-each day
less sign of the ordered,
thought-out oasis, a squared circle her mind
constructed for rose and lily, begonia
and rosemary-for-remembrance.
Twenty years in the making-
less than a month to undo itself;
and those who had seen it grow,
living around it those decades,
did nothing to hold it. Oh, Alberto did,
one day, patch up the fence a bit,
when I told him a future tenant would value
having a garden. But no one believed
the garden-maker would live (I least of all),
so her pain if she were to see the ruin
remained abstract, an incomprehensible concept,
impelling no action. When they carried her past
                                                                                on a stretcher,
on her way to the sanatorio, failing sight
transformed itself into a mercy, certainly
she could have seen no more than a greenish blur.
But to me the weeds, the flowerless rosebushes, broken
stems of the canna lilies and amaryllis, all
a lusterless jungle green, presented-
even before her dying was over-
an obdurate, blind, all-seeing gaze:
I had seen it before, in the museums,
in stone masks of the gods and victims.
A gaze that admit no tenderness, if it smiles, it
only smiles with sublime bitterness-no,
not even bitter: it admits
no regret, nostalgia has no part in its cosmos,
bitterness is irrelevant.
If it holds a flower-and it does,
a delicate brilliant silky flower that blooms only
a single day-it holds it clenched
between sharp teeth.
Vines may crawl, and scorpions, over its face,
but though the centuries blunt
eyelid and flared nostril, the stone gaze
is utterly still, fixed, absolute,
smirk of denial facing eternity.
Gardens vanish. She was an alien here,
as I am. Her death
was not México’s business. The garden though
was a hostage. Old gods
took back their own.

Poems 1972-1982
New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2001

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