The end of March juggles winter and spring, often choosing both. Ice and melting ice, snow and melting snow, bare branches and first blooms, and over all blue, blue sky and marshmallow clouds. W.S. Merwin’s poem, “It Is March” from The Lice muses on appearances and disappearances, revealings and vanishings.
It Is March
It is March and black dust falls out of the books
Soon I will be gone
The tall spirit who lodged here has
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
When you look back there is always the past
Even when it has vanished
But when you look forward
With your dirty knuckles and the wingless
Bird on your shoulder
What can you write
The bitterness is still rising in the old mines
The fist is coming out of the egg
The thermometers out of the mouths of the corpses
At a certain height
The tails of the kites for a moment are
Covered with footsteps
Whatever I have to do has not yet begun
Black letters turn to black dust; we note the slow falling away of what’s known and remembered, and along with that vanishing, so goes a person, so exits stage left images and thoughts networking across our brain and shaping a voice we hear and talks to us, reminding us always we are a person until that voice stutters and slips away. Who we live with in our past always present departs ahead of us, maybe as a warning of what’s to come; and then, down below on the street we’re reminded of the blanching out of life, the signs of former times sadly stating over and over we are not where we used to be.
Merwin states the past remains though we can’t see it anymore, can’t touch it anymore. The definition of what has been–we recognize the place holder “the past” even if there’s nothing there. The seasons appear more kind, as they cycle back through what was thought lost, and nothing really vanishes completely as the old insect casings and leaves turn into new feathers and fur. What cause does a beetle have to worry about the future? It all comes back around. But a person. To us the future has no wings, yes the idea of the future because the future is a bird, but it has no wings. One’s peculiar happiness and sadness, what is their future when the voice who laughs and sobs says good night for good? Merwin’s images disturb with their carnival, topsy-turvy undoing of up and down right and left. “Bitterness” out of “mines,” “fist” out of “egg,” “thermometers” not out of the mouths of babes, but out of “corpses.” Even “kites” are trampled under foot. Leading all to the overwhelming notion, well maybe as Elizabeth Bishop questions Pascal in “Questions of Travel,” should we have left our rooms or should we have stayed; or maybe as Eliot would have us walk our under sky “etherized;” yes to the overwhelming notion that nothing has happened in the first place; we have not yet happened, I have not yet begun the work I’m to do or supposed to do, and you haven’t become whoever you will become once you get down to the work of being a person.
If one reads enough, there are ghosts everywhere.