by Margaret Gibson

Someone no longer alive

is hovering over a great expanse of smartweed, panic grass, and midden
where a house used to be
where trees and gardens once flourished

where puddles and ponds held a sky of clouds and stars
in place
for a moment

and you lived there . . . Ah, my dear


I speak from the liminal space where your beloved’s last barely audible breath
slipped into your body

then out the window into the winter chill, whose horizon line it rolled up as if
it was twine

into a point, a still point—
a full stop that opens the heart

From that point, I speak


As once you washed the body of your beloved
let us wash
for the last time

this one earth, this only, and only once, for once and for all

as if it were a lover who has died, and we, not knowing what to do

at last must wash the poles, north and south
where long ago the ice

cracked open
sheared off
and melted
Last, the mountain peaks

Last, the crowns of oaks and maples, on whose bare branches long strips of torn
plastic flutter

Also the steeples, the turrets, the domes

Last, the open fields and meadows, wash them clean

the vast desert and its last oasis

riverbeds and shrunken rills

ravines and gullies

the rocky promontories from which we viewed the sea
as it rose to cover the cities
Last, the cities

submerged full fathom or in low tide only the towers and the tips of the high-rises
winking up

Last, the sidewalks, shop windows, market stalls

Last, pebble, shell, and skull

Last, lark

and satellite, wash them, and the field of broken mirrors

Last, the house

Last, the bed

Last, the hills of midden, and their treasures

a button

a seed

a feather

a zipper

a chip of china plate

Last, the nose cone, the black box

Last, the trawler, the landing gear, the microchip, the missing part

Last the kiva, the sweat lodge, the drum

Last, the prayer rugs, the pews, the cushions

Last, the seat of enlightenment beneath what remains of the small tree’s spreading

Last, the factories, the foundries, the mills

the maze of subway tunnels

the turnstiles

Last, the eye of the needle through which we could not pass

Last, a gun, a mine, a missile

Last, a bridge

Last, middle C on the piano, last a cello, a violoncello, in particular the Sonata
for Violoncello no. 2 in D, op. 64, by Heinrich von Herzogenberg

precious because it was the last music you listened to

precious because, like the last word your beloved spoke, you did not know it was

Last, the pattern of fish displayed on ice, and their many-eyed, one-eyed gaze

Last, the last whale beached on the shore at Truro

Last, the glint of an eye in the periwinkle, the lovely, sinuous ripple of a reclusive

Last, the chemicals, the vitamins, the pills, the chemicals

Last, a hearing aid

a pair of binoculars

a surgeon’s knife, a sling, a robotic hand

Last, to list only a few from the multitude that perished, fox and laughing
gull, swallowtail and hawk

lion panther coyote vole giraffe mosquito trillium hummingbird hibiscus owl

Last, the very last line in a poem by Rilke
the line
you can’t forget the ache of, the line you didn’t enact, not one syllable

of it—
You must change your life


Space, of course, lasts

I walk upon it, as one would walk on a tablecloth for a table no one will set

What’s left of my eyesight has dimmed, what I hear is only wind
and that, muted

And because I have nothing to write on, I build cairn after cairn, lifting stones

balancing them

touching what remains in place, as if it were a new alphabet, or a sentence in Braille

You are reading the last of the earth’s last rivers and mountains—do you
know that?

These stones, these silences

the last words

held in mind for a moment

as if they were a net of fireflies shimmering in a summer field one can’t tell apart
from a night sky and stars

Wash them
each stone, each firefly

wash them clean

this one, a love cry

that one, lament

and the last one the wing of a warning you might still be able to hear

just as once, long ago
you caught the smoke of the oracle rising from a rift zone at the center of the earth


If these cairns, these stone syllables, survive, there may be no one left to read
the poem they make—
but if by chance, there is . . .

let the stones be read aloud, so that a human voice

might widen its reach, floating off among the stars like the ringing-through
of a great bronze bell

like the audible layers of birdsong gradually moving west as dawn
brightens, or used to

and the great earth turns

Last updated November 03, 2022