Djuna Barnes


Down the dusty highway, on the broken road,
             With curls as thin as smoke is hovering round his head,
Came the slow procession with its dreaming load:
             The man who stopped his living that he might be dead.

On the sodden plank-bridge, musing though the town,
             Thus, with hands before him, crossed like girls who pray,
So the vivid corpse came, with his head bent down,
             In the chill of morning and through the common day.

Straight his lips, sans laughter all the painleft in,
              Quiet as a chancel that breathes a morning prayer;
So the stately body, with its rigid chin
              And its startled, leaping-high, thin, damp curls of hair.

Thus does one consider, death and man debate,
             Some must leave to-morrow, but some must know to-day,
And some approach too early, but most approach too late,
             When the tang of random youth has dropped into decay.

Heavy feet, like women’s hands pregnant with vast prayer,
All his muted splendor caught upon Death’s loom,
With his throat fast fettered to the branches of his hair,
But with soul tobagganing upon the sled of doom.

Through the dark’ning city to a narrow space,
            With a song between his teeth, silence in control,
With a little humor clenched within his face
            And a little wonder wedged within his soul.

spoken = Monica Ammerman