Yale University Press, New Haven, 1944
Dedication: Christian and Alice Gauss
[These] are not only poems by a navy flyer about the air war in an "impossible land": they are poems written from within that experience. They have an accent, a tone of participation....not heard before or recognized.
-From the Introduction by Archibald MacLeish
Combed by the cold seas, Bering and Pacific,
These are the exile islands of the mind.
All the charts and history you can muster
Will not make them real as the fog is real
Or crystal as a certain hour is clear
if you can wait.
Write to me often, darling.
Thrown up hurriedly for a late-crossing people,
These are unsettled mountains where I walk,
They dance at the center still and spout new ash;
The teeming salmon remember in their courses
When they were not, and the winds run into the hills
By an old habit.
Now I am convinced there is nothing to fear,
Now on these islands you are all I want;
They shake and change and finally enchant;
But I have wished you a bawdy darling and here
Often, I, rootless and needing a quick home.
Here I have such singular strange visions,
So moving strong in beauty
You would not believe them, no
Not if your lover told you so
At night remembering, stirred in my sleep at night.
One was, in the orange time of morning,
The smoking peak of Shishaldin in a glory;
(Eastward I saw, oh, I remember eastward
Pavlof, the black volcano, throwing flame
At night, to seaward, when beacons were forbidden.)
Empedocles' element, neither earth nor fire;
And when I put a wing across the cone
(Snowy, and striking deeply at the memory),
It drew me, too, driven and weary
What with the war, and those foolish citizens my thoughts.
Another, the humorless mounds, the kitchen middens
Built in the painful winds that blow forever.
Watch the slow procession laying them down
(An almond-eyed people, parent to Incas and Indians)
Shell upon shell, bone upon bone, until
See they have builded there a little hill!
A thousand years ago, seated by this cold harbor, eating fish,
In what was to prove only a delaying action.
You are one for the day I landed there in sunshine,
Porcelain little village with your white Russian church,
Your far-eyed children and your hollow-barking malemutes
That romp on the beach, cluttered with boats and flowers.
When was June gentleness set in so alien a land,
In a calendar with so few sunny saints?
A moon miracle are the milky hills at night
With streamers of snow dancing in the moon at the summits,
An ageless dance with the peculiar rhythm of zero,
And the wind creaking like a green floe.
And now I write to you from such another vision.
As the haunted men who wrestle a weariness
Or women who languish from no sickness known
In books a century back, I am alone
In the sheer time of hilltop happiness.
Deft on the harbor I have put behind
The lovely gray vessels for their battles wait.
Twenty-four blue sailors anticipate
Orders of drill that drift up on the wind.
And stiff on the apron are the pretty planes
That waddle to the water and drum away,
Leaving me stammerer, inept to say
Why in their simple duty there is pain.
You will see in this passage I am wanting you.
Providence occurs to me;
I will salvage these parts of a loud land
For symbol of war its simple wraths and duties,
Against when, like the hut-two-three-four sailors
Disbanded into chaos by fall-out,
I shall resume my several tedious parts,
In an old land with people reaching backward like many curtains,
Possessing a mystery beyond the mist of mountains
Ornate beyond the ritual of snow.
The moth sky of evening and the moth sea
Linger into the night and coupling sleep.
Sleep for us here is a leaping down safely in silk
From the flaming bull's-eye plane of day,
Stricken ship that twists and thirsts for the metal sea.
We lie in khaki rows, no two alike,
Needing to be called name
And saying women's names.
Now the moth descends, but when the dove?
God keep us whole and true, my distant love.
Other poems from Love Letter From An Impossible Land...
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