Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rescue the Dead - D. Ignatow

I first encountered Ignatow's poems while still in college, shortly after discovering poetry beyond the "usual suspects" spoon-fed in high-school.   It was a paper-back edition of "Rescue The Dead" and the title-poem stunned me with its "definitions" of love, creating questions I never knew existed.  I marveled at the layers of complexity possible in such few - and simple - words strung together as he had done.   As I have aged, it's a poem that has not.  His later poems are so sparse and simple that a critic called them "Zen-like".  (Intimation.)

Last year, I found a signed, first edition hard-cover copy of "Rescue The Dead".
Rescue The Dead

Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,
is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,
is to respect fire,
is to study man's eyes and his gestures
as he talks,
is to set bread upon the table
and a knife discreetly by,
is to pass through crowds
like a crowd of oneself.
Not to love is to live.

To love is to be led away
into a forest where the secret grave
is dug, singing, praising darkness
under the trees.

To live is to sign your name,
is to ignore the dead,
is to carry a wallet
and shake hands.

To love is to be a fish.
My boat wallows in the sea.
You who are free,
rescue the dead.
David Ignatow  -American

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