Patrick Doud

The World As It Is

Since the night last winter
the house down the hill burned,

late January night
of the fire that took her

from this world,


fire no longer serves
as a symbol, cannot represent

something else, as a boat can be
the body, the hollow that held the selves,

the body lost in the accident
of the fire. Even floating on the deepest water

a boat may burn.


“He won’t leave the boat,” the voice,
the Russian speaking English said,

the boat phasing to burgundy,
to a book once a tower by the sea.

As in the dissolving within me, college
to marriage, distinctions emerge

on the birth-death edge. Within me
are many selves, and also desire for these

to slip off to other stories.


When you and I were young
we were neighbors by the river, close

by the half-wild people of the shore,
novelists of Russia and wandering bards, people

(in the rabbi’s words) maladjusted in the world as it is.
Also herds of deer and aged masters

who made much of love. “Poor lady,”
one master said to you, strolling the path,

seeing by the shore a fallen doe.
And me, drinking it up:

that myth comes
from someone telling something of love

they know for sure.


Compartments in eternity,
the world as it is

composed of hollow spaces
in fruit depending

from eternal branches.

the life in the hollows.


Years branch from my body,
my selves walk out in time,

leave behind self-shaped hollows
then one day return, but never

to fit in the same way
again. Succession

of field, woods,
river, mountains:

an order of parts like that of an eye,
like that of the selves

looking out through the eyes,
attention at rest

upon a landscape.


The ocean is visible,
the full moon is there,

with a husband parting
from his wife and child

and thieves with knives
lying in wait close by.

This in a print of an old picture,

the young woman (you)
chanced to find

and give (me) the young man.


I fear chance is really
somehow intent, or maybe

intent reaches far
beyond what it seems –

the fire that burned her body
not an accident, but malevolence.

Or a gift, a mercy; a strange benevolence.
An act of someone or something

with no name I know.


Or result of countless accidents
of intent and intent’s

lack, as the way the dissolution within
seemed from thirty-two to forty-two.

Others work this out, settle
on a view, a beginning.

But all inconsistency,
those vying inside for mastery:

how settle many selves?


It could begin anywhere,
could begin at a grave,

in river-woods dirt,
under the swarm of butterflies

our aimless young steps
disturbed into flight.

Colorful, violated
thoughts of a god

or of a delicately composed place:


distress or blessing of accident
or hurt-help of another.

Defending his picture
the artist asked,

“Is not Merit in one
a Cause of Envy in another

& Serenity & Happiness
& Beauty a Cause

of Malevolence.”


No longer young, no longer
neighbors by the same river,

we go on. With happy and sad intent
you wrote of returning to the river:

with wife and children,
an unexpected turn up the road,

an hour before sunset
as it is in your dreams. It was

as if you were cheating on the woods
because you brought your wife,

as if the woods cast you off
after you gave them your children

who belong there in a way
you can no longer, no matter

your longing for an old day.
“I don’t mind. It would be much worse

if I still belonged,” you wrote.
And of a caterpillar

that wouldn’t leave your son’s coat.


A resident of dream,
a failed officiant

passed out in borrowed chasuble:
this old young man

still doing such things.
Waking I found I missed the service

I promised to lead, found
the borrowed vestry hollow.

You, friend and priest of my promise,
young woman by the river, wife’s wife

and flesh-and-blood mother of these stories,
obliged to fill the congregants’ need

while I slept.


The fire occurred,
house and body,

it all began to burn
while she slept, while I slept

even as I watched the rising tower
of flame. No matter my grief,

my longing it be some other house that burned,
some other body

far from home. Still I grieve.
I am myself the husband, the wife, the child

and the envying, murdering thieves.


Unfit, the given parts
fire and life are made of;

no longer desired,
the morning of the myth:

symbols and selves
have tasted the poison,

the malevolence of one.
Through me the swarm

of persistent images moves
but I cannot move or remain

without dissolving into more.


I did not visit the remains
of her house, place flowers

as you suggested,
did not join others

who may have gathered.
Still I grieve:

a neighbor, no matter a stranger.
A stranger, no matter.

My grief is the longing
of unenacted love,

of all who are me, I
as I am, of the world as it is

and the world as it will be.


PATRICK DOUD lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts.