Allen Grossman The Life and Death Kisses Aleph
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ibant obscuri
 

The chroniclers ceased, they ceased . . . until I arose –
Out of the infinite unborn, one of the born who lived,
And out of the number of all who have lived and died,
One of those yet alive,
And among all who are yet alive, one of us not in the greatest
Pain, not demented, not buried and awaiting rescue without hope
Under a cruel weight, and not mourning inconsolable losses
Night after night, or enraged by the treachery of women,
Or subjected (not for this moment, thank God!) by the evil
Power of J –

Arose, in truth, because it was time, punctually,
At three in the afternoon, from where I was sitting without
Thought on an obdurate bright bench of varnished rattan
In the last car of a train – leaning and slowing as on a curve –
Beside a honey-blond woman of indeterminate age whose
Eyes were strange –
Amidst the blandness of air and the thin light of destination.
It was in the middle-western state of X – Land of Lakes – ,
Somewhere on the western, unbuilt limb of the central city
Where lordly factories, and highways, and nursing homes were
Transparent with hesitation between then and now in sunlight
Whiter than it should be

Because the foul windows of the old train were crowded with
Papery faces – like bleached leaves fallen to the bottom of
An empty pool, one upon the other; or like ocean waves blown down
White by the silent hurricane, waves breaking out of sight of land,
Unsurvivable by ships –
Human beings with the faces of leaves or fallen water:
Near at hand the faces that can appear, and behind them also
The ones that cannot appear, in their multitudes, white faces
Receding into the whiteness of the light and the flat landscape
Of the Great Plains of the dream.

I rose to get down, for the train had stopped and it was
Leaning in the light.  And I looked on my right hand to the woman
Who sat beside me – the stout, blond woman with strange eyes – ,
Thinking, “She will know the way.  This is her country.”
But I saw she was blind.
She was blind.  I knew by the hesitation of her body as she
Lifted it like something very large with separate intentions
In another world.  She took hold of me and we entered the dark end
Of the car, and then she kissed me with life and death kisses
Amid a great rush of air mingled with odors of metal,
And the slamming of doors.  And out of her mouth a stone passed
Into my open mouth.

“This is the stone of witness,” she said, “that stops every heart.”
Thereafter, I turned to the left hand and went down.  In the sunlight
A Spring snow was rising and falling on the plain, and the rails
Where the train had been
Were brimming with silver.  I would have lingered in the light
For the interest of the empty scene, but I was wearied out
By the silence of life and death, and the kisses of the Fate.
And I lay down among the leaves like a young soul bewildered,
Beneath a sun that was as a stare of the finest eye.  And then
The life stopped in me, and the witness-stone divided my throat.