Thirteen Ways of Looking at Living  

He wanted mountains
as his final resting place:
climb and let me fly.

We climbed, ten,
The landscape open, no trees,
just empty and wide.

The black ashes fell up to the ground.
The sun remained in the sky.

A camera captured
All around earth rocks family

Our conflicts dissolving
into suspended time,
breathing memories,
the connections blinding,
the future past.

The shadow of inheritance.
The pull of familiarity.
Love crossed with contradiction,
no answers,
lost words,
uncertain and unknown.

O voice of silences
what would you say to us now?
Do you not seek the many questions
embedded in the reparations
we expect to find?

I know only murmurs
and the rhythm of searching.
But I know too
that death is involved
in what I know.

When we came down from the mountain
our bodies flew,
scattered to many destinations.

At the sound of each day
and each day returning
we noted the discordant measure
of hours and years.

He did not ask
for more time.
He did not seek miracles
or complain of cruelty.
He knew that all stories
have an end.

Her mind departed
long before her heart failed.

We went back up the mountain.
It was different
and the same and the earth
the sky accepted anew
our darkest gift.

Joy has asked us this week at earthweal to talk about the first poems that helped you to find your own inner eye and voice, and write about it. I’m sure there were poems and poets that influenced me before Wallace Stevens, but none has been as central to me as his “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. I’ve posted at least 4 variations of it, including one for earthweal.

But the poem above is the one that still cuts closest. The photos are cropped versions of panoramas composed by my older daughter from photos she took in the mountains of Arizona where my father requested that we spread his ashes. My mother did not make any request except to be cremated, but we managed to find the very same place to spread her ashes years later after her death. As I wrote in my original post:  I’ve been thinking about my parents.  My generation is becoming the elders now.  I do not think we are prepared for it.

43 thoughts on “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Living  

  1. And this touches so close to home for me. My parents’ ashes held apart for now, next to each other on my sister’s mantle. The last wishes were that they be mingled together. As together in death as they were in life – of one mind and one heart…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Death sometimes divides, sometimes heals old wounds. The going up and down the mountain is almost biblical.
    I think not long ago, when women were old as soon as they passed child-bearing age and men aged prematurely with hard physical work, they wanted to be ‘the elders’ because just being ‘old’ gave them no recognition. It’s recognition we don’t want. We envy the young too much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s true Jane on both counts. I’ve seen families torn apart by the money aspect of death–what else? We each seemed to want different sentimental things, and there were no mansions or parcels of land to fight over.
      As to being old–now you become invisible, a burden. Perhaps we are too good at prolonging life beyond its proper time.


      1. ‘Things’ are never worth creating bad blood over. Yet it always happens. Sometimes it’s inadvertent, when two people think they were both intended to have the same souvenir, but even then, it’s still only a thing.
        I think you’re right. It’s accepting the wrinkles, the sagging skin, the slowing down that some people find impossible. I wish they’d find it as impossible to eat themselves into immobility.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love every wonderful thing about this poem – the format, the poem itself, the images, and the notes that follow. What a wonderful way to honor and set free your loved ones……….I remember the same feeling when my mother died. Now I was the matriarch and I was not ready for it.

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  4. So moving, K., with the same detached urgency of life (even in the stillness of death), that Wallace Stevens seemed to convey. It easy to see his influence here. The photos are just an added dimension of what you represent through the simple imagery of words creating order and continuity from what is lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OK, so maybe I see cloud & rain, but first – I thought jellyfish. Less reasonable, but like that first impression best. Poem & music & pictures (including those that looked like Mars). Engaging. All of it. I remember as a child pirate treasure chests of gold and jewels, all spilling out. (I’m learning) that’s what you are to me – a beautiful gem. You keep offering more that wants to soak right in. Thankful for you being you.

    And thirteen? OK and well, for you Kerfe, an (older) poem of 13 I’ll repost for you.

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  6. A deep and profound journey, both inner and outer, painted upon a mystic cycle of 13. There is much to adore and tonweep over here. Being the oldest never grants us elderhood and we are in a time where they are sorely called for.

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  7. I do indeed hear that calm, sometimes cold, collected voice of Stevens whispering between these lines–almost all his poems contain questions as this one does, wedged into the dense description and exposition like a sharp little fleck of diamond surrounding a larger jewel–I never find that they have easy answers–some no answers at all that can be put into words. But that is poetry. We say all we can, but we leave as much or more behind as a flavor, a scent, a reparation even, unsaid. Stevens blew me away, and for many years I kept a collection of his work next to my bed. “Blackbirds” is one of his most elusive, yet striking poems, and you have captured both those qualities here. Death falls upward here, taking its secrets into the sky, and leaving all its sorrows behind to be dealt with.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is more narrative than expository though each panel helps complete a vantage in which the staggering influence of parents is set in a final place in the past. The writing of it expresses “our darkest gift”- a wide enough welcome to speak fully of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a mournful solemn tribute to your parents … even in death they touch us 🙂 Your daughter’s photography adds another dimension.

    aha I can see why his poems echo with you … the deep reflection and questions!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You speak this form so flawlessly – each image carrying the narrative a little further with such sparseness and clarity. A beautifully moving piece. and the photographs are perfect too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is so personal yet so universal and so moving as well. We don’t set out to be influenced but the written words’ influence is at such a deeper level that it becomes indescribable. This will stay with me for a long time. Thanks for sharing, Kerfe.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Both girls draw well, and the older one is an excellent sculptor. But they are not really that interested in it. The older one doesn’t even take her camera out anymore. Perhaps they will return to it someday.

          Liked by 1 person

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