with human life and striving and passion and aging is tight and
explicit and maybe even a little overwrought—at least I saw it
that way when I first read the poem. I was in my thirties then,
and my health was a given. Now the poem reads more like a
biblical truth. The great clock of your life / is slowing down, / and
the small clocks run wild. These great clocks and small clocks are
the very texture of our days on earth. Yet for most of us, most of
the time, they tick on unheard. In the society in which I live, in
that other world, across the mountains — far from this wild place
where death is explicit and occurs in plain sight, where it is ordinary and everyday and unremarkable — people don’t talk about
dying. People rarely witness the dying of their fellow humans
(much less the animals they eat). Special people minister to the
dying. Sometimes people in their travail fly overseas and pay
strangers to hasten their dying. We have no charnel grounds,
only cemeteries shaded by big trees, mowed and tended by
groundskeepers. Or we’re handed the ashes of our loved ones,
in sealed urns or handsome boxes, to disperse at sea or from
Facing death in a death-phobic culture is lonely. But in wild
places like Prince William Sound or the woods and sloughs behind my house, it is di=erent. The salmon dying in their stream
tell me I am not alone. The evidence is everywhere: in the skull
of an immature eagle I found in the woods; in the bones of a
moose in the gully below my house; in the corpse of a wasp on
the windowsill; in the fall of a birch leaf from its branch. These
things tell me death is true, right, graceful; not tragic, not failure,
not defeat. For this you were born, writes Stanley Kunitz. For this
you were born, say the salmon. A tough, gritty fisherman friend I
knew in my twenties called Prince William Sound “God’s country.” It still is, and I am in good company here.
We have no dominion over what the world will do to us, all
of us. What the earth will make of our tinkering and abuse can
be modeled by computers but is, in the end, beyond our reckoning, our science. Nature is not simply done to. Nature responds.
Nature talks back. Nature is willful. We have no dominion over
the wild darkness that surrounds us. It is everywhere, under our
feet, in the air we breathe, but we know nothing of it. We know
more about the universe and the mind of an octopus than we do
about death’s true nature. Only that it is terrible and inescapable,
and it is wild.
Death is nature. Nature is far from over. In the end, the gore at
the creek comforts more than it appalls. In the end — I must believe it — just like a salmon, I will know how to die, and though
I die, though I lose my life, nature wins. Nature endures. It is
strange, and it is hard, but it’s comfort, and I’ll take it. A
Eva Saulitis reads “Wild Darkness” aloud at www.orionmagazine.org.
Driving the car, walking the dog . . .
cresting the hill. When suddenly
you catch sight of the day-moon, why
does it come with what is almost a jolt of pain?
You mean the pain inflicted by its beauty?
No, I mean the pain
caused by its having been up for hours,
and though you’d noticed, you had not seen.
Blaring at you from a sky
the blue of a fast car of a bygone day—
you have so far to go in your perceptual awakening
and the day-moon is the meter of your failings.
And if you’d seen, would you still feel
that soft and slightly sick spot in your stomach
whenever you stoop to self-reflection: now
you wouldn’t stoop, being perceptually awakened
though not boastful, no never boastful.
Meanwhile the day-moon circles the globe like Superman,
hauling the seas on his white shoulders
flying half a mile a second,
getting things done
but also as calm as the Virgin Mary.
See her face up there?
People used to say that it was made of cheese.
Such silent cheese. Such busy cheese.
— Lucia Perillo