If time is only another dimension, then all that dies Remains alive; not annulled, but removed Out of our sight. Una is still alive. A few years back we are making love, greedy as hawks. A boy and a married girl. A few years back We are still young, strong-shouldered, joyfully laboring To make our house. Then she, in the wide sea-window, Endlessly enduring but not very patient, Teaches our sons to read. She is still there, Her beautiful pale face, heavy hair, great eyes Bent to the book. And a few years back We sit with our grown sons in the pitching motor-boat Off Horn Head in Donegal, watching the sea-parrots Tumble like clowns along the thousand-foot cliff, and the gannets like falling stars Hawk at the sea: her great blue eyes are brimmed With the wild beauty. Or we walk in Orkney, Under the mystery of huge stones that stand there, Raised high in the world's dawn by unknown men to forgotten gods, And see dimly through the deep northern dusk A great skein of wild swans drop from the cloud To the gray lake. She weeps a little for joy of beauty. Only the homecoming To our loved rock over the gray and ageless Pacific Makes her such joy. It is possible that all these conditions of us Are fixed points on the returning orbit of time and exist eternally... It is no good. Una has died, and I Am left waiting for death, like a leafless tree Waiting for the roots to rot and the trunk to fall. I never thought you would leave me, dear love. I knew you would die some time, I should die first -- But you have died. It is quite natural: Because you loved life you must die first, and I Who never cared much live on. Life is cheap, these days; We have to compete with Asia, we are as cheap as dust, And death is cheap, but not hers. It is a common thing: We die, we cease to exist, and our dear lovers Fulfill themselves with sorrow and drunkenness, the quart at midnight And the cups in the morning -- or they go seeking A second love: but you and I are at least Not ridiculous. September again. The gray grass, the gray sea, The ink-black trees with white-bellied night-herons in them, Brawling on the boughs at dusk, barking like dogs -- And the awful loss. It is a year. She has died: and I Have lived for a long year on soft rotten emotions, Vain longing and drunken pity, grief and gray ashes -- Oh child of God! It is not that I am lonely for you. I am lonely: I am mutilated, for you were a part of me: But men endure that. I am growing old and my love is gone: No doubt I can live without you, bitterly and well. That's not the cry. My torment is memory My grief to have seen the banner and beauty of your brave life Dragged in the dust down the dim road to death. To have seen you defeated You who never despaired, passing through weakness And pain --- to nothing. It is usual I believe, I stood by; I believe I never failed you. The contemptible thought --- Whether I failed or not! I am not the one. I was not dying. Is death bitter, my dearest? It is nothing. It is silence. But dying can be bitter. In this black year I have thought often of Hungerfield, the man at Horse Creek, Who fought with Death --- bodily, said the witnesses, throat for throat, Fury agains fury in the dark --- And conquered him. If I had had the courage and the hope --- Or the pure rage --- I should be now Death's captive, no doubt, not conquerer. I should be with my dearest, in the hollow darkness Where nothing hurts. I should not remember Your silver-backed hand-mirror you asked me for, And sat up in bed to gaze in it, to see your face A little changed. You were still beautiful, But not --- as you'd been --- a falcon. You said nothing; you sighed and laid down the glass; and I Made a dog smile over a tearing heart, Saying that you looked well. The lies --- the faithless hopeless unbelieved lies, While you lay dying. For these reasons I wish to make verses again, to drug memory, To make it sleep for a moment. Never fear: I shall not forget you --- Until I am with you. The dead indeed forget all things. And when I speak to you it is only play-acting And self-indulgence: you cannot hear me, you do not exist. Dearest... The story: Horse Creek drives blithely down its rock bed High on the thin-turfed mountain, as we have seen it, but at the sea mouth Turns dark and fierce, black lava cliffs oppress it and it bites through them, the redwood trees in the gorge-throat Are tortured dwarfs deformed by centuries of storm, broad trunks ancient as Caesar, and tattered heads Hardly higher than the house. There is an angry concentration of power here, rock, storm and ocean; The skies are dark, and darkness comes up like smoke Out of the ground. It was here that Hungerfield sat by his mother's bedside, In the great room at the house-top, under the heavy slant of the rafters: she had chosen this loft to lie in Because it was as wide as the house, one could see west and east, ocean and mountain, from the low-silled windows Without lifting from bed. But now her eyes were closed, she lay under opiate, gasping and muttering, A tall woman, big-boned and aquiline-faced, with thin gray hair And thin gray lips. She had been on her bed helpless for half a year Like a ship on a reef. Hungerfield sat beside her, his great shoulders hunched like a vulture's. There was nothing to do, and he felt his strength Turn sour, unused. He had been a man of violence, and formed for violence, but what could violence do here? He could not even breathe for her. She was, in fact, drowning, here on the bed: metastases of cancer Had found the lungs. This is my wound. This is what never time nor change now whiskey will heal: To have watched the bladed throat-muscles lifting the breast-bone, frail strands of exhausted flesh, laboring, laboring, Only for a little air. The poets who sing of life without remember- ing its agony Are fools or liars. Hungerfield watched the winter's day end die in dark fire In the west windows. He lighted the little coal-lamp in its bracket and sat down again, Hunched, full of helpless fury. He had fought in two so-called world wars, he had killed men, he knew all the tricks. But who kills cancer? He remembered when he was young, after his first battle, He had met Death in a hospital. Dreamed it, no doubt, dizzy with ether, having three machine-gun slugs through his belly, And killed some men, two of them with his hands after he was wounded: he had seen Death come in for him, Into the French barn which they called a hospital. Death walked in human form, handsome and arrogant Among the camp-cots, a long, dark and contemptuous face, em- peror of all men, choosing the souls That he would take. It was nothing horrible; it was only absolute power Taking his own. He beckoned: the obedient soul Flew into his hand. Hungerfield thought Death was right to despise them, they came like slaves. He thought, "The poor bastards are tired after a battle" --- he thought in his own language --- "and their wounds hurt, They want relief" --- but at that moment the towering dark power approached him and made a sign, Such as one makes to a dog, trained but not liked, "Come here to me." Hungerfield felt such a wave of rage That his wounds closed their mouths; the leonine adrenal glands poured their blind fury Into his blood, and the great nerves of the brain Gave eyes to it; he was suddenly well and powerful, with burning eyes: "Come and try me. We'll see Which one's the dog." Death amazed glared at him. He was like the defeated Roman dictator in the ruins of Carthage, Alone, when the two soldiers found him, unarmed and guardless, his head worth an ass's load of gold: He lifted his indomitable head, scowling, and they Fled from him, like boys who have chased a rabbit in the bushes and find a bear. So Death stared at Hungerfield, Death himself, with his empty black eyes and sneering astonished face, at such a mask of fury That he preferred to avoid it. The blue eyes and the black ones fought in the air: it was Death's that failed. He shrugged his high heavy shoulder and turned aside. "My senseless dream," Hungerfield thought. "The loss of blood and the dregs of ether made a fine dream. How I wish it were true." He looked at his mother's face, gasping and drained, and the thin lips Black in the half-light. She had enormous vitality, he hoped she was not conscious. He heard light footsteps Mounting the stair, and the door opened, It was his young wife Arab, a girl so blonde that her hair Shone like another lamp at the end of the room, in the dark door- way. She stood a moment, And came quietly and kissed him. "Won't you come down to sup- per, dearest? I will stay here." "No," he said And twitched his thumb toward the dark door: she patiently Went out and closed it. Hungerfield was waiting for his enemy, And coiled to strike. The conscious upper layer of his mind did not one moment believe That Death had a throat and one could reach it, but his blood did. What he had seen he had seen. It was dangerous For any person to come into the room: he had only by force and will kept his hands From his dear Arab. Meanwhile the gentle click of the door-latch and Arab's entrance Had touched the ears of the old woman dying; and slowly, from nerve-complex to nerve complex, Through the oxygen-starved brain crawled into her mind. She rolled her head on the pillow: œWho is that? There! There! Her tremulous finger pointing at shapes and shadows in the room twilight, her terrified eyes peering, Following phantoms. "Nothing, Mother, nothing: there's no one. Arab was here. But she has gone." "I'm dying now," she said. "Can't you see?" She gasped rapidly awhile and whispered, "Not a nice death: no air." "You will not die, Mother. You are going to get well." It is a common lie to the dying, and I too have told it; but Hungerfield --- While his mind lied his blood and body believed. He had seen Death and he would see him again. He was waiting for his enemy. Night deepened around the house; the sea-waves came up into the stream, And the stream fought them; the cliffs and the standing rocks black and bone-still Stood in the dark. There were no stars, there were some little sparkles of glowworms on the wet ground, If you looked closely. and shape of things, and the shifting foam- line. The vast phantasmagoria of night Proceeded around that central throat begging for breath, and Hun gerfield Sat beside it, rigid and motionless as the rocks but his fingers twitching, hunched like a cat To spring and tear. Then the throat clicked and ceased. Hungerfield looked at it; when he looked back The monster was in the room. It was a column of heavy darkness in the dim lamplight, but the arrogant head Was clear to see. That damned sneer on his face. Hungerfield felt his hair rise like a dog's And heard Death saying scornfully: "Quiet yourself, poor man, make no disturbance; it is not for you. I have come for the old woman Alcmena Hungerfield, to whom death Will be more kind than life." Hungerfield saw his throat and sprang at it. But he was like a man swimming A lake of corpses, the newly harvested souls from all earth's fields, faint shrieks and whispers, Death's company. He smote their dim heads with his hands and their bowels with his feet And swam on them. He reached Death's monstrous flesh and they cleared away. It had looked like a shadow, It was harder than iron. The throat was missed, they stood and hugged each other like lovers; Hungerfield Drove his knee to the groin. Death laughed and said, "I am not a man," and the awful embrace tightened On the man's loins; he began to be bent backward, writhing and sobbing; he felt the years of his age Bite at his heart like rats: he was not yet fifty: but it is known that little by little God abandons men When thirty's past. Experience and cunning may perhaps increase But power departs. He struck short at the throat and was bent further backward, and suddenly Flung himself back and fell, dragging Death down with him, twist- ing in the fall, and weasel quick on the floor Tore at the throat: then the horrible stench and hopelessness of dead bodies filled the dim air; he thought He had wounded Death. What? The iron force and frame of nature with his naked hands? It bubbled and gasped, "You fool --- what have you done!" The iron in his grip melted like a summer corpse, and turning liquid Slid from his hands. He stood up foaming and groped for it; there was nothing. He saw in the stair-door Arab, and Ross his brother, and the hired cattlehand Staring with eyes like moons. They had heard a chair crash and seen the fury; Arab had screamed like a hawk, But no one heard her; now she stood moaning, gazing at him. But Ross entered the room and walked Carefully wide around him to their mother's bed. The old woman was sitting up and breathed easily, saying "I saw it all. Listen: they are taking him away." A strain of mourn- full music was heard, from the house Flitting up the black night. This was the time --- it was near mid- night here --- for a quarter of an hour Nobody died. Disease went on, and the little peripheral prophetic wars, the famines and betrayals, Neither man nor beast died, though they might cry for him. Death, whom we hate and love, had met a worse monster And could not come. Hungerfield writhed his mouth, striving to speak, and failed. He stood swaying, And spoke loud but not clearly: "To kill the swine. How did he get ---" He lurched a step toward the bed And righted the fallen chair and sat on it, vulture-hunched and gray-faced. Then Arab ran to him, But stopped a man's length distant: "Dear, are you hurt?" "No," he said. "keep away from me." "Oh God, I'm in terror of you. What have you done?" "Nothing. Nothing at all. I wiped the damned sneer off his face but he got away from me." She, with her hands on her throat, like a leaf shaking: "Who was it, who?" "Uh," he said. "Death. Can't you smell him? But the swine tricked me, And slip-slopped out." He worked his hard hands and stared at them: "Ross, is there any liquor in the house?" "Drunkard," The old woman answered, "as your farther was." "Yea? he said. "you're better, uh? You'll be all right, Mother." In the morning she dressed herself without help, in the dim of the dawn, And came downstairs. Then Hungerfield, who had watched all night beside her and dozed in the graying, awoke And followed down. He made a fire in the stove, and washed his hands and sliced meat; the old woman fried it And brought the coffee to boil. Arab came in with her little son, who ran to Hungerfield: "What happened Daddy?" "Your grandmother has got well," he answered. "Then why is Mahmie so scared?" œ"h? No. Your Mahmie's glad. --- Arab," he said, "I know there's a little whis- key hidden in the house. By God I want it." She smiled, and brought a half bottle from the linen closet behind the linen. He said To his mother, "Don't look, Mother," and filled a water-glass full and drained it; she watched him with sidelong hatred Through her gray brows. "Take a little more," she said, "and go blind --- While Ross goes in to Arab and Death to me." "I had my hands in him," he said --- "Uh --- What? What did you say?" "I said that one of my two sons is a drunken bully, and the other defiles His brother's wife." He stared at her and said, "You're...pretty sick, Mother. Forget it, Arab. Something has happened to her." "Something has happened to me." the old woman answered. "I was dying and you filled the room With beastly violence. My beautiful dark angel, my lord and love, who like a bridegroom had come for me, You took him by the throat and killed him. Will you like it, Arab When he kills Ross?" The girl suddenly knelt to her, where she was sitting, and laid her hands on her knees: "Please tell the truth, Mother." "I'm telling the truth. From my windows I watched you. He will surely kill him, He kills horses and men." Ross at that moment sleepily came in the room. The old woman said, "How do you dare?" "What?" he said. "How do you dare to come in, where our handy killer whom you dishonored Waits for your throat?" Then Arab, her face withered half-size and as white as paper, leaped up from kneeling: "Quit lying, Mother!" and furiously turned on Hungerfield, who had not stirred, "Be quiet!" she said. "Stand still! It is a dream from hell." "No," he said quietly, "from the mor- phine. They get delusions." He looked over Arab's head at his brother: "It's all right, Ross." And to his mother: "The horrible gift, I was ignorant and gave it. I forced out that great head of yours between my thighs, bleeding and screaming, tearing myself to pieces: I am now punished for it --- and the monstrous plant that grew up out of my body is the stick to beat me: That's you, that's you!" "You've had a bad time, mother," he an- swered patiently. "You'll soon be better, I think. Will you go up to town to the doctor with me? Or the young doctor Can come down here." "I had one friend in the world," she an- swered, ˜loving and faithful: when he came you killed him. I hate your hangdog face and your horrible hands: I cannot bear you: have mercy on me, Get out of my sight." He felt a sharp gust of wrath returning: "I didn't kill him: By God I will." "I am so homesick for him, his peace and love, it is pitiful," she answered. But she came more into control of herself As the days passed. She stared at the sea a great deal; she watched the sunsets burn fierce and low, or the cormorants Roosting on the offshore rock, their sharp black wings half-spread, and black snaky throats; and the restless gulls Riding the air-streams. She watched coldly the great south storms, the tiger-striped, mud-yellow on purple black, Rage in the offing. She seemed to find consolation in them. There is no consolation in humanity --- Though Arab sometimes allowed her (carefully in her presence) to hold Little Norrie in her arms --- only the acts and glory of unhuman nature or immortal God Can ever give our hurts peace. But Alcmena Hungerfield Was not for peace, she had become Death's little dog, stolen from him By the strong hand, yelping all night for her dear master. She stared at the sea a great deal, and her son Came in from Monterey, stinking of whiskey but not altered by it. "Here's the paper, Mother," He said, and laid it carefully on her knees, the Monterey newspaper With headlines about the outflash of war in Asia. "We've got our nose caught in the door again. We always do." "Well...what?" she answered, staring at him As she stared at the sea. œI thought you might be int'rested, he answered. "Ross and I are too old To go to it." She turned to an inner page and read, Squinting her eyes to pull the print into shape, in the manner of old age In lack of glasses. Suddenly she began to tremble and said, "Thank God! Why did you lie to me, Hawl? People still die." "So do the calves," he answered. "Three or four every night, and no reason known." "Why did you lie about it then? Look here ---" She thrust the paper at him, trembling at pointing --- "Satella Venner died yesterday, my old friend. I never liked the old woman, but I'd like to go." "Uh," he said, "the funeral? Sure. I'll take you there." "I want to see her dead face," she answered. In the night Arab sat up, Gasping with fear, "Wake up!" she whispered. He lay inert, softly breathing; she dug her finger-ends Into his great shoulder and the softer flesh over the gullet: "Wake up for God's sake, Hawl. He has come in!" Hungerfield brushed the little hand from his throat like a biting fly and said Quietly, "What?" "Something came in," she whispered through clicking teeth, "I can hear it padding Inside the house." "Ah hell." he said impatiently, but slid from bed and went about the house naked, Flashing the little electric torch into doors and corners, for the night was black. He went upstairs To the loft where his mother lay, and heard her on the bed quietly breathing. He drew the torchlight across, And her eyes were wide open. "Are you all right, Mother? It's Hawl." She made no answer. He stood awhile, And said, "Good night, Mother." He went back to bed, and Arab Sat huddled on it, small as a frightened child, hugging her knees to her throat. "Every night I hear it Hulking around the house, pawing at the walls --- But tonight it came in." "lie down," he said, "and be quiet." "let her die, Hawl, she is so unhappy. O let her die!" "Little fool," he said, "there was nobody. I'm sorry for her. Unhappy --- what's that?' We win or they do." "I pray you, Hawl," she answered, "as if you were God: when my time comes O let me die!" In the morning Hungerfield took his mother to Monterey, to her friend's funeral. They drove home Late in the afternoon in the amber afterglow. The day had been like a festival. Hungerfield Accepted his mother's mood and was patient with her, and had supper with her On the Monterey fish-pier, they alone together. He thought that she seemed at last perhaps Not quite unhappy. She was even willing to taste wine, in the bright wind on the platform Over the gentle sea, and made no objection to him That what he drank was more violent than wine. She had even urged him to it, saying that the day Was a holiday; he failed to observe the calculation In her old eyes. They were driving the coast-road Where it loops into Torres Canyon over great precipices in the heavy half-light. She said, "De Angulo Went down here, he lay all night in the butt of the gorge, broken to bits, but conscious, Lying crushed on his dead son, under the engine of the car --- let's try, let's try!" she leaped at the steering wheel, Trying to slew it to the right, to the blue chasm: it was firm as rock, She like a mountain-cat Fought with her fingernails her son's hands; he said indulgently, "Don't be afraid, Mother. I'm driving. You are quite safe." "Safe in hell," she panted. "Oh --- child What have I done to your hands?" They rounded the great head- lands and came to Granite Point and drove down Into the heavy fog clotted on Horse Creek The front of the house was empty and blind When they came near; only at the side two dim-lit rectangles Faintly reddened the fog-stream. The front door stood wide open; the steps were wet. Hungerfield Helped his mother out of the car and they climbed them. A wavering light Walked in the room: Ross came slow to the door, the smoke- blackened glass skew in his hand; He moved a chair with the other and said, "Sit down, Mother." "We've had supper," she said. "I'll go straight to bed." Hungerfield said fiercely: "What's the matter? Where's Arab?" "Gone...gone," he an- swered. His face was like a skull, stripped and hollow, and the lamp Rolled in his hand, so that his brother took it and said. "Are you drunk, Ross?" He mumbled, "Unq-uh," shaking his head "Four more calves and your bay horse Are --- dead ---" he screamed the word --- "He comes behind you, Hawl, He works ˜n the dark " head still shaking, apparently he could not stop it; his hair and shirt hung As if they were soaked with water. Hungerfield said, "You fool: talk sense. Where has she gone?" "Oh, wait," he said, "For God's sake," pointing at the inner doorway; and gulped and shivered: "In there." Hungerfield set the lamp and strode to the door: it was pitch dark within: he said, "Arab? Are you there, Arab?" Ross echoed him for no reason, saying loudly, "Arab." His brother entered the room and they heard him fum- bling in it, and his voice: "Where are you?" The old woman, Leaning against the chair-back, said cooly: "Well, Ross, What has happened?" "Mother," he said. He stood moving his lips without further words, and they heard Hungerfield Move blind in the black room, and croak In a strange voice, "Light, light!" They stood and stared at each other; then Ross opened his mouth and sucked His lungs full, as if he were going to dive into deep water; he took the lamp from the table and carried it To the dark room. The old woman followed him; and in the room quickly found matches, and lighted A second lamp. Arab and little Norrie lay without life together on the narrow bed, Phantoms of what they had been. Hungerfield stood above them, gaunt, straight and staring At Arab's discolored hair: their clothes and their yellow hair soaked with water and foam. Hungerfield said, "I knew in the dark well enough." A frond of se-weed stuck beside the child's nostrils, but Arab's face Was clean pale marble; except her eyes were open, blu and suf- fused, and her half open mouth Had foam inside. Hungerfield said heavily, "How did they drown?" Ross answered: "I dived and pulled them out. I pumped her ribs with my hands for an hour, I think, And she grew cold." Hungerfield heavily turned and said: "Why did they go in water?" Ross answered, "He comes behind you, you know. I heard her screaming ---" The old woman Went around the bed and dropped by the child, her knees loud on the floor, her shaking gray head On the child's breast. Ross said, "I was at the stable, you know, unsaddling. I ran down and saw her Running out on the rocks carrying the baby, crying and running. She thought someone was after her. She either jumped or fell in." "So that's your help." Hungerfield said. He felt his arm swell and strike --- One blow, but the neck broke. They heard the head strike the floor and the body shuddering, and Hungerfield Did not look down. The old woman lifted up her desert-dry eyes from the child's breast and said: "You've done it now." He stood considering the matter, hearing the rub of Ross's boots on the floor As he twitched and was dying. "Ah," Hungerfield said, "I did it Yes, My monstrous fault." "Oh," she answered, "Now me, now me!" "The fool had to interfere," he answered He knuckled his eyes and said heavily, "I have another son in Alaska. I have no other brother and no other love. Arab. Arab alone." "You've had many," she answered eagerly. "Look," he said, "Oh, she was beautiful, Mother. She was always sweet, patient, and cheerful, she loved Norrie --- and now She has death in her mouth." As if his name had called him, Death Stood in the room. Alcmena Hungerfield well remembered him, The towering stature, the high thick shoulders and the arrogance, the long dark narrow face and deep eyes Set close together. "O dear dark God!" she said, "I am here, Gently I pray." But Hungerfield Gazing at Arab's face did not hear her, and did not see What came behind him and with a slight motion of the hand beckoned To Ross to come. The old woman saw the unfleshed soul Blind and erratic as a beetle flying rise from the body; it jigged and darted in the air, and swam Into Death's hand, which crushed it. Hungerfield turned and said, "Is it you, Horse-face I haven't called you yet. Come again in ten minutes." He turned away, saying, "Arab is dead. My dear Arab is dead. And Ross, who was quick and loyal, skillful with cattle and a great rider, is dead. My brave little man Norrie is dead --- Hell, he gets three for one, and now the whole game, he has tricked me witless. But I'll make a good sunset --- We'll dance in fire, Horse-face, And go up yelling." He went in the dark to the kitchen store-room and fetched the big can of coal-oil, Going heavily like a rock walking, violent and certain; but in the darkness returning He walked into a half open door, and with one hand Tore it down from the hinges. He poured the coal-oil onto the floor and the bed and the wooden walls, And turned a lamp to flaring and flung it Into the oil-pool. Bright flame stood up. The old woman said, "Hawl... Kill me before I burn." He said, "I've done enough and too much, Mother. Find a knife for yourself." She, thinly laughing: "You're not much help, are you? But I've lived with pain As fish live with the sea. Or if it's tough I can drink smoke." But her courage after a time Failed, and she fled from the house before the bright flame em- braced her. Horse Creek sea-mouth at last for once Was full of light; the fire drove away the fog; there was light every- where. Black rock shone bright as blood; The stream and the deep-throated waves of the ocean glittered with crimson lightnings, and the low cloud Gaped like a lion's mouth, swallowing the flights of flame and the soul of a man. It is thus (and will be) that violence Turns on itself, and builds on the wreck of violence its violent beauty, the spiring fire-fountain And final peace: grim in the desert in the lion's carcass the hive of honey. But Alcmena Hungerfield Hating both life and death fled from the place. She lived two years yet, Death remembering her son, and died As others do. Here is the poem, dearest; you will never read it nor hear it. You were more beautiful Than a hawk flying; you were faithful and a lion heart like this rough hero Hungerfield. But the ashes have fallen And the flame has gone up; nothing human remains. You are earth and air; you are in the beauty of the ocean And the great streaming triumphs of sundown; you are alive and well in the tender young grass rejoicing When soft rain falls all night, and little rosy-fleeced clouds float on the dawn. --- I shall be with you presently.