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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUAry 2011 96 VIXEN Comet of stillness princess of what is over high note held without trembling without voice without sound aura of complete darkness keeper of the kept secrets of the destroyed stories the escaped dreams the sentences never caught in words warden of where the river went touch of its surface sibyl of the extinguished window onto the hidden place and the other time at the foot of the wall by the road patient without waiting in the full moonlight of autumn at the hour when I was born you no longer go out like a flame at the sight of me you are still warmer than the moonlight gleaming on you even now you are unharmed even now perfect as you have always been now when your light paws are running on the breathless night on the bridge with one end I remember you when I have heard you the soles of my feet have made answer when I have seen you I have waked and slipped from the calendars from the creeds of difference and contradictions that were my life and all the crumbling fabrications as long as it lasted until something that we were had ended when you are no longer anything let me catch sight of you again going over the wall and before the garden is extinct and the woods are figures guttering on a screen let my words find their own places in the silence after the animals About a Poem: Susan Dunlap on W. S. Merwin’s “Vixen” photo©CarolyNSEatoN W.S. MErWIN, the new United States poet laureate, is a long-time Zen practitioner who studied with the late robert aitken roshi. Merwin has said of poetry: “It’s close to the oral tradition, ... close to song. you have to hear it before you can understand it.” “Vixen” is a wonderful example. long before I had any idea of its meaning, I was caught by its lushness, its flow, like water gurgling over stones. later I became intrigued by the individual phrases that could be de- scribing the timeless center of zazen: “Comet of still- ness”; “high note held without trembling”; “without voice”; “without sound.” there is the sense of aware- ness that comes from sitting practice: “patient without waiting.” tenses change abruptly from present to past, to present to future, as if all events share the same uni- versal moment. Viewed on another level, Merwin’s intriguing phrases are mysteries, or perhaps almost koans. one year I con- templated a phrase a week. “princess of what is over,” the poet wrote. But think of fairytale princesses. they are all about the future, about living happily-ever-after. Does the princess of what is over—snatched away, dead— symbolize delusory hope for what is already gone? or does she symbolize something else entirely? another mystery: What kind of stories are so dangerous as to be not merely blackballed and whispered in private, but de- stroyed? Who or what would destroy them? and, as if to balance that, there is the following phrase: “the escaped dreams.” there’s one to ponder. and most delicious of all, “sibyl of the extinguished window onto the hidden place and the other time.” the structure—the lack of punctuation—allows us to connect a word to the previous or following phrase. Just now, after years of reading the following section as, “warden of where the river went [,] touch of its sur- face sibyl,” I saw it as “touch of its surface [,] sibyl of the extinguished window onto the hidden place and the other time.” there’s so much more to be said about this poem. But the real pleasure is in reading it again and again and letting meanings emerge. Poem from the Vixen, by W.S. Merwin. Knopf, 1997.