Without, by Donald Hall


we live in a small island stone nation

without color under gray clouds and wind

distant the unlimited ocean acute

lymphoblastic leukemia without seagulls

or palm trees without vegetation

or animal life only barnacles and lead

colored moss that darkens when months do

hours days weeks months weeks days hours

the year endures without punctuation

february without ice winter sleet

snow melts and recovers but nothing

without thaw although cold streams hurtle

no snowdrop or crocus rises no yellow

no bright leaves of maple without autumn

no spring no summer no autumn no winter

no rain no peony thunder no woodthrush

the book is a thousand pages without commas

without mice maple leaves windstorms

no castles no plazas no flags no parrots

without carnival or the procession of relics

intolerable without brackets or colons

silence without color sound without smell

without apples without pork to rupture gnash

unpunctuated without churches uninterrupted

no orioles ginger noses no opera no

without fingers daffodils cheekbones

the body is a nation a tribe dug into stone

assaulted white blood broken to fragments

provinces invade bomb shoot shell

strafe execute rape retreat and attack

artillery sniper fire helicopter gunship

grenade burning murder landmine starvation

the ceasefire lasts forty-eight hours

then a shell explodes in a market

pain vomit neuropathy morphine nightmare

confusion terror the rack the screw

vincristine ara-c cytoxan vp-16

loss of memory loss of language losses

foamless unmitigated sea without sea

delirium whipmarks of petechiae pcp

multiple blisters of herpes zoster

and how are you doing today i am doing

one afternoon say the sun comes out

moss takes on greenishness leaves fall

the market opens a loaf of bread a sparrow

a bony dog wanders back sniffing a lath

it might be possible to pick up a pencil

unwritten stanzas taken up and touched

beautiful terrible sentences unuttered

the sea unrelenting wave gray the sea

flotsam without islands broken crates

block after block the same house the mall

no cathedral no hobo jungle the same women

and men they long to drink hayfields

without dog or semicolon or village square

without monkey or lily without garlic

From “The Old Life” by Donald Hall. (Houghton Mifflin: $19.95, 134 pp.) . Copyright 1996 Reprinted by permission.