Theodore Roethke





The Lost Son

1. The Flight
At Woodlawn I Heard the dead cry:
I was lulled by the slamming of iron,
A slow drip over stones,
Toads brooding wells.
All the leaves stuck out their tongues;
I shook the softening chalk of my bones,
Saying,
Snail, snail, glister me forward,
Bird, soft-sigh me home,
Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time.

Fished in an old wound,
The soft pond of repose;
Nothing nibbled my line,
Not even the minnows came.

Sat in an empty house
Watching shadows crawl,
Scratching.
There was one fly.

Voice, come out of the silence.
Say something.
Appear in the form of a spider
Or a moth beating the curtain.

Tell me:
Which is the way I take;
Out of what door do I go,
Where and to whom?

    Dark hollows said, lee to the wind,
    The moon said, back of an eel,
    The salt said, look by the sea,
    Your tears are not enough praise,
    You will find no comfort here,
    In the kingdom of bang and blab.

    Running lightly over spongy ground,
    Past the pasture of flat stones,
    The three elms,
    The sheep strewn on a field,
    Over a rickety bridge
    Toward the quick-water, wrinkling and rippling.

    Hunting along the river,
    Down among the rubbish, the bug-riddled foliage,
    By the muddy pond-edge, by the bog-holes,
    By the shrunken lake, hunting, in the heat of summer.

The shape of a rat?
       It’s bigger than that.
       It’s less than a leg
       And more than a nose,
       Just under the water
       It usually goes.
    Is it soft like a mouse?
    Can it wrinkle its nose?
    Could it come in the house
    On the tips of its toes?
   
       Take the skin of a cat
       And the back of an eel,
       Then roll them in grease,–
       That’s the way it would feel.

       It’s sleek as an otter
       With wide webby toes
       Just under the water
       It usually goes.

2. The Pit
Where do the roots go?
       Look down under the leaves.
Who put the moss there?
       These stones have been here too long.
Who stunned the dirt into noise?
       Ask the mole, he knows.
I feel the slime of a wet nest.
       Beware Mother Mildew.
Nibble again, fish nerves.

3. The Gibber
At the wood’s mouth,
By the cave’s door,
I listened to something
I had heard before.

Dogs of the groin
Barked and howled,
The sun was against me,
The moon would not have me.

The weeds whined,
The snakes cried
The cows and briars
Said to me: Die.

What a small song. What slow clouds. What dark water.
Hath the rain a father? All the caves are ice. Only the snow’s here.
I’m cold. I’m cold all over. Rub me in father and mother.
Fear was my father, Father Fear.
His look drained the stones.

       What gliding shape
       Beckoning through halls,
       Stood poised on the stair,
       Fell dreamily down?
 
       From the mouths of jugs
       Perched on many shelves,
       I saw substance flowing
       That cold morning.

       Like a slither of eels
       That watery cheek
       As my own tongue kissed
       My lips awake.

Is this the storm’s heart? The ground is unstilling itself.
My veins are running nowhere. Do the bones cast out their fire?
Is the seed leaving the old bed? These buds are live as birds.
Where, where are the tears of the world?
Let the kisses resound, flat like a butcher’s palm;
Let the gestures freeze; our doom is already decided.
All the windows are burning! What’s left of my life?
I want the old rage, the lash of primordial milk!
Goodbye, goodbye, old stones, the time-order is going,
I have married my hands to perpetual agitation,
I run, I run to the whistle of money.

    Money money money
    Water water water

    How cool the grass is.
    Has the bird left?
    The stalk still sways.
    Has the worm a shadow?
    What do the clouds say?

    These sweeps of light undo me.
    Look, look, the ditch is running white!
    I’ve more veins than a tree!
    Kiss me, ashes, I’m falling through a dark swirl.

4. The Return
    The way to the boiler was dark,
    Dark all the way,
    Over slippery cinders
    Through the long greenhouse.

    The roses kept breathing in the dark.
    They had many mouths to breathe with.
    My knees made little winds underneath
    Where the weeds slept.

    There was always a single light
    Swinging by the fire-pit,
    Where the fireman pulled out roses,
    Those big roses, the big bloody clinkers.

    Once I stayed all night.
    The light in the morning came slowly over the white
    snow.
    There were many kinds of cool
    Air.
    Then came steam.

    Pipe-knock.

Scurry of warm over small plants.
Ordnung! ordnung!
Papa is coming!

    A fine haze moved off the leaves;
    Frost melted on far panes;
    The rose, the chrysanthemum turned toward the light.
    Even the hushed forms, the bent yellowy weeds
    Moved in a slow up-sway.

5. “It was beginning winter”
It was beginning winter,
An in-between time,
The landscape still partly brown:
The bones of weeds kept swinging in the wind,
Above the blue snow.

It was beginning winter,
The light moved slowly over the frozen field,
Over the dry seed-crowns,
The beautiful surviving bones
Swinging in the wind.

Light traveled over the wide field;
Stayed.
The weeds stopped swinging.
The mind moved, not alone,
Through the clear air, in the silence.

       Was it light?
       Was it light within?
       Was it light within light?
       Stillness becoming alive,
       Yet still?

A lively understandable spirit
Once entertained you.
It will come again.
Be still.
Wait.