A Third Night Poem
Jerome Rothenberg


When the expiration hath ceased, the vital-force will have sunk into the nerve-centre of
Wisdom & the Knower will be experiencing the Clear Light of the natural condition.
Then the vital force, being thrown backwards & flying downwards through the right &
left nerves the Intermediate State (Bardo) momentarily dawns.


How will I take the final words of your Night Walk, now that you’re dead, & work them
          into my poem?
I had promised it at your birthday, the last or the next to the last, so hard to tell the years
so leave myself no choice but to continue, get it down & try to speak your presence with
          the words you give me.

Once again I think of you as someone wearing many coats or bundled up against the
          night, my own delight to sit beside you,
to see your nose & eyebrows glowing in that light, revealing you to us,
revealing secret bodies from your night walks, meanings written on their foreheads,
two o’clock when happiness arrives to free our tongues,
when coats are shed & foreheads show what’s real inside us, feeling, hearing, walking
          with delight,
a man at night whose being flows out from his teeth, who steps on twigs & breaks the
learning how to draw attention in that halflight, feigning sweetness.

Clasping your coats around you, hairsmells heavy in the night, dark clouds & kisses
when the evening’s dark & cold, I hold the clouds in memory, a dimness
black as three o’clock, so touching when the cold rests on your eyebrows, otherwise
          revealing what we all try finding,
clothing darker than the sky, desiring & feeling, telling your old stories, standing rooted
          like a tree.

Desiring what else I couldn’t say but know that when the light grows dark, as when our
          fingers close around it,
a streamsound breaks the silence, that’s when wondering makes way for learning,
pointing out the stars at night, wrapped in your many sweaters, when our beings feel
you wait there, listening in that dimness, hearing little, knowing less, of what the night’s
bodies black & cold are sliding past you, clasping you around as you might grasp at
bundled in your clothing, looking outward where the night grows white & quiet.

There’s a halflight that survives you. Now we’re warming ourselves in it, resting,
          hugging, hearing streamsounds,
loving peace as you did, finding that our eyes, turned to the sky, observe a man there,
hearing what we hear, whose kisses promise sweetness, being who he is, but turn to ice
          before us,
talking through the night while wearing many coats against its dimness, friends together,
filming trees & raising eyebrows, hearing, hugging, kissing, melting ice against our
out in the night air, trading coats.

A dimness with no resting, seeking warmth from kisses, needing what a man has always
touching lips to eyelids, talking to each other through the night, a memory of three
no longer a delight for eyes & tongues, with never warmth enough to suit your liking,
bodies poor & old, their pockets long since emptied, naked beings who still freeze
          like naked beings,
some dispensing meanings, others begging for attention, listening while walking, slipping
          backwards in the night,
its grey trees masking feeling.

Will trees still bring delight, the way old stories made our cheeks turn red or hairsmells
          filled our noses?
Will we be clasping something, feeling it slide past us, eyes & teeth revealing what
          the night can’t hide?
Where will our clothing be at three o’clock, our pockets empty, trees like fallen friends
          around us,
& no telling if there’s starlight, if the night still brings us wonders, trees that once again
          are only trees,
each one of us a fallen being, hairsmells heavy in the darkness, noses swollen,
clasping what we can & listening, for what? Another nightwalk, half forgotten,
where the light turns black.


finished 17.i.05


* Source of epigraph: The Tibetan Book of the Dead