May 24, 2010

Why He Doesn't Keep a Journal

by Christian Wiman

In the dream he burns his journals one by one
because the fire is fading, because the fire is there.
The first is full of days
he doesn’t remember, a sudden furious blaze
scorching his hair and driving him back.
Impressive, but brief.
The second’s better, himself at twenty turning into flames
that at the time he’d tried to be,
a decade later, and dazed
less by loss than by what he’s simply given away:
cities, friendships flickering as he says their names
with what could be joy, could be grief.
By the third he’s learned
to hold a moment as it goes, to lean into this burn
while the flames toss
and taunt the darkness, which recedes, and waits, and gathers,
             and rushes back in like a wave.
Now the loss is truly loss.
By the fourth there’s not one page he doesn’t hear,
not one word he doesn’t bear
as it adds its vanishing to that roar
with its own tiny cry that could be pain, could be praise.
Ash of childhood, ash of accomplishment,
love in the air like ash,
on and on and on,
everything’s in them and everything’s gone.
Now the fire once again begins to die.
In the dream this must not happen.
In the dream he knows why.
There’s just one more,
completely blank, its cover black,
which he’s never had a reason for
but always thought he might need,
carrying it around the world to pack and unpack
a thousand times in a thousand rooms
like a little portable grave.
Was it something in this one book that would not suffer words,
or something in himself no word would save?
No time, no time. He throws it in,
and what happens next happens again and again,
a thousand times in a thousand ways:
he looks dead into the fire that feeds on nothing,
and nothing stays.

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