The Gift

by Hilda Doolittle

Hilda Doolittle

Instead of pearls--a wrought clasp--
a bracelet--will you accept this?

You know the script--
you will start, wonder:
what is left, what phrase
after last night? This:

The world is yet unspoiled for you,
you wait, expectant--
you are like the children
who haunt your own steps
for chance bits--a comb
that may have slipped,
a gold tassel, unravelled,
plucked from your scarf,
twirled by your slight fingers
into the street--
a flower dropped.

Do not think me unaware,
I who have snatched at you
as the street-child clutched
at the seed-pearls you spilt
that hot day
when your necklace snapped.

Do not dream that I speak
as one defrauded of delight,
sick, shaken by each heart-beat
or paralyzed, stretched at length,
who gasps:
these ripe pears
are bitter to the taste,
this spiced wine, poison, corrupt.
I cannot walk--
who would walk?
Life is a scavenger's pit--I escape--
I only, rejecting it,
lying here on this couch.

Your garden sloped to the beach,
myrtle overran the paths,
honey and amber flecked each leaf,
the citron-lily head--
one among many--
weighed there, over-sweet.

The myrrh-hyacinth
spread across low slopes,
violets streaked black ridges
through the grass.

The house, too, was like this,
over painted, over lovely--
the world is like this.

Sleepless nights,
I remember the initiates,
their gesture, their calm glance.
I have heard how in rapt thought,
in vision, they speak
with another race,
more beautiful, more intense than this.
I could laugh--
more beautiful, more intense?

Perhaps that other life
is contrast always to this.
I reason:
I have lived as they
in their inmost rites--
they endure the tense nerves
through the moment of ritual.
I endure from moment to moment--
days pass all alike,
tortured, intense.

This I forgot last night:
you must not be blamed,
it is not your fault;
as a child, a flower--any flower
tore my breast--
meadow-chicory, a common grass-tip,
a leaf shadow, a flower tint
unexpected on a winter-branch.

I reason:
another life holds what this lacks,
a sea, unmoving, quiet--
not forcing our strength
to rise to it, beat on beat--
stretch of sand,
no garden beyond, strangling
with its myrrh-lilies--
a hill, not set with black violets
but stones, stones, bare rocks,
dwarf-trees, twisted, no beauty
to distract--to crowd
madness upon madness.

Only a still place
and perhaps some outer horror
some hideousness to stamp beauty,
a mark--no changing it now--
on our hearts.

I send no string of pearls,
no bracelet--accept this.

Last updated August 29, 2017