By Mary Jane White


Having returned from beyond black borders
Over sundry rivers
I come to our final parting

& bring at last that kiss the departed are freely granted
& call out  wailing  above your absence

Since separation forbids you hear me
Or take more of warm embrace
O my most wretched endeavor
So surely gone

But now I must pretend a more quiet grief in tribute
As laid before any King in fine austere measure
Take my leave with no regretful tears

& then & forever my senseless one be gone 
Go too then & let all be well



You have no art
That is not artless 
As I do not 
You forget that
& you are never unsure 


With no obligation to me  
That were no matter


That turns out to be true
& is inoperative  
Here for you


As dawn brightens
I have to doubt a bit the marriage of all others


There is in this place  
No vow even to living a lie 
I dislike the fact of it the lie
Whoever I might fool with it  
I can never hear it in your voice 
Mornings short & square


Losing none of your blunt


A phone holding its numbers flips open 
Here it’s mine 
Just let go
Your hold on it


As dawn passes letting
A rose-water into the mind 
Mushy & slow
Beginning to give or lay claim
To some fairer existence


At the door I slide under your eye 
My weakness
Dawn your end 
Which of us is trickier


You come past me as a checkpoint
In your world which is multiple 
Your low-clouded sky 
You gaze down
Is never going to live openly


For the moment we don’t have the means to
So you attend to the flight of dawn 
The moon shining down by its great leave 
Green & silver & pink & white


No alarm ever just sleeping & laze
& messing up a clean counter
& now waking again & there I slip
With half a season of waiting & leading
& letting slide
Returning too late 
Or you turning your back 


Did I find a number once & was it
The washing machine’s fault 
Did you blame the washer
Yes you did 
That or the window before you
Saying the small hedge was 


& then took it back 
You can always summon something
With unchanging ease
& look forward to a place
A next one 
I believe there is a next place 
Never where we rejoice in living
With so little 
Such lost time


Closed & enclosed
Little–our life as I call it


Kept to strict understandings of whatever


Dawn when the albas rise 
When you answer 
In mind of one who is going to
Put his shoulder to the sun


You hear it 
Inside your own head
Intent & square 
Short impossible
All imaginable


I have my imagination
It is what I have
& my head is closed
& I have forgotten what to say
Or think to say 
This is familiar
& I want never to say my piece 
Where I go 
What shoes I wear
Whose body of effort
Or how it felt
Or how our several wars
Ended once entirely 
With the last slip 
Before quietude
Or how breath left off
Or how abnormal that was 
Those few times
I don’t like to tell


One hand loose within the other 


Or the ornamental tree
I saw how little it changed                             
Over eight years’ seasons 
Its weeping branches hung
With red fruits 
Or the small flashlight I gave you to use 
The narrow beam of it  
Its watery movement 
How it lit your way
So it was your way 
So you were alone with it
& free to sleep anywhere
To evade nightmare


A season inside
Or with the embroidered table-scarf  
Were no matter 


I wondered
With the tree bowed with fruit 
Lay in my sheet
As if non-existent 
Cold came 
Rain came softly then
Then snow 
Then sleet’s sound 


I did think my heart stopped that time 
Uneasy it forgot delight 
Tracked the dark
That rose across your face as others re-entered your mind 
As the phone rang


Watched the song of sweeter Sirens spill
Over your ear
As you looked away


I did hear singing & the embroidered table-scarf
Was nothing to speak of


As you spoke softly to re-set & replace
One slipping away piece 


So sleep lay far off 
Where once
I was immortal
& now this 


Dawn & unease  
A welcome silence after the chorus
The winter wrens make 
Where I am
Eternally here
To hear them



It seems you were not stale
Nor was our escapade


Look back look back  
I’ll never grow weary 
There is no exhausting your story


Civilization not that you credit it
Does what it can to ease you


To have known you could go in X short days
& that you might never
But might  
Nothing you could shrug off your back 


Then & why you remain at large each night 
Why your life never seems to lengthen out  
Even a short while


With freedom to look away
Far off past your back 
Why so heedless & why not


Under you a day of life is finished  
& the imagination of reward intensely present 
Drums under the window
So now all is growing ignorance
& confused evasion fading away


Into daylight when everyone could see it
For what it was & wasn’t
& more New Year arrived
Abnormally which we noted as abnormal
How would courage matter
Which is no wonder & after we call upon it
We remain unsteady  
Speaking about everything else


A first happy night of nights
When all we have is scattered out
In a partial soulful imitation of black
& white


Then credit this  
Path of least resistance


& you release me & chasten me this way & that
Nothing tells us this is bad 
No stop 
Stop now & we never did
Or do



The meeting is scheduled in a room set with a few, hard scattered chairs.
Planned to be a short meeting.  Looks to be a strategy One could meet by
Making it run on for two hours—as One has an iron butt, and is angry.


The meeting is scheduled in a room with air conditioning.  Getting somewhere?
Strategy this time is front-line friendship, and administrative non-commitment.
One notes a violation of the relevant, niggling rules of changing fine-print.


The meeting is scheduled on their territory—a trailer with a secretary and copier.
The head of everything and second in command are set to watch One read all
Their paper.  Fat man on a tailbone donut.  Deadpan, One matches scrap to scrap.


The meeting is scheduled out of town, closer to the source of power and money.
Arrangements are circular, in accord with current theory.  All agree to face
A perfectly ignorant third party.  Some sullen, and One confident.  Not an end to it.


The meeting is in the County Courthouse—public, neutral, local ground.  The elegant
Court reporter takes the hearing down.  One testifies, and cries—uncomfortable for
Everyone else. Readily admits mouthing fuck to the front-line souls who fucked it up. 


The meeting adjourns to conference phone.  One thinks better without eye contact.
Lower levels weigh in, and are excused to duty.  Strategy now: Give it up: an offer One
Won’t refuse: honey—a quaver—some way for Some to pass over One and On.

mary jane white

About the Author:

Mary Jane White:  MFA Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NEA Fellowships in both poetry and translation, Bread Loaf Scholar in both poetry and translation, Squaw Valley and Writers In Paradise Scholar, Starry Sky to Starry Sky, (Holy Cow! Press 1988).