Richard Jackson

Desperate Beginnings

Tonight I will begin with the silence of water dripping from a soldier’s
bugle, a rain that might fall from a time before this one, might erode even
the works of Michelangelo or Rodin. I will begin as those astronomers do,
peering into the darkness before the Big Bang. I will begin by standing on
this bridge with its sourceless stream. I am stuffing my knapsack with
my unused hours. The far mountains have trapped the moonlight.
Tonight I will begin with the blank page you inhabit before I arrive,
with the air I breathe that is hostage to what you want to say.

Once I thought that to begin meant I knew where I was going,
that we could sculpt our own future from the hardest stone.
But did you know the North Star has shifted since our ancestors
first made pictures in the sky 14,000 years ago? It was Vega then,
not Polaris, that guided their way. Now the doors of desire have
no handles. Now we have this unbearable emptiness between stars,
the lost hopes that slip back below the horizon as the planet turns,
our orphan words whose pockets are stuffed with unknown futures.

Maybe we have just forgotten that our loneliness requires someone else
we can lament. We have to begin by discarding the imposters hidden
in the closets of the heart. Tonight I began by remembering the few
genes we harbor from the Neanderthals we once exterminated. I began
by comparing our own darkness to the dark matter that holds the universe
together. I began with the Ugandan warlord who scrapes the stars from the sky,
who cuts the lips from his victims, and the farmer whose eyes were
bayoneted out by the Junjaweed. I began with the black sun that shrivelled

as it sunk into the heat waves on his desert floor, with the unreadable
calligraphy of those desperate sands. Tonight I am watching the moonlight
fight its own shadows, watching it steal its light from the earth. Every day
we reflect a love that needs us. Every day we ignore this love the roots
of stars rot back into darkness. Maybe every beginning is only a reflection
that has arrived from nowhere. In Japan, a dolphin found with an extra set
of fins means its ancestors walked the shoreline before any of us appeared.
Tonight, I can’t even say where the mockingbird’s song originates.

Tonight, in Antarctica, the dying off of some micro worm is said to predict
our own end in some distant age. It is too far to count. The mathematician,
George Cantor, went mad trying to invent a system of numbers beyond infinity.
But tonight, tonight I can simply hold a fist up between the sun and the horizon
and count on each finger a quarter hour until the sun disappears. I can dream
of standing beside you as the shadows of trees drink from the water below us.
Tonight, despite all the splinters of these words, despite the way our lives float off
with milkweed seeds, despite the clouds that prowl the skies of history behind us,

despite their lightning that echoed before any beginning, now, while the past sleeps
in the trees, I will begin with the moment before the otter slips into the water,
the moment before the owl chooses a branch for its nest, forgetting no prophecy
or darkness, no death or extinction, no torture that shackles the heart, but simply
to begin again, to begin by thinking of a love that has survived all this time, just as
this poem has been thinking about you since its beginnings, remembering what
endures, like this river flowing always through our own hands, or like Rodin’s
lovers, held in their desperate embrace by the black, enormous hand of God.