W. S. Merwin

 In that tenth winter of your exile
the cold never letting go of you
and your hunger aching inside you 
day and night while you heard the voices 
out of the starving mouths around you 
old ones and infants and animals 
those curtains of bones swaying on stilts 
and you heard the faint cries of the birds 
searching in the frozen mud for something 
to swallow and you watched the migrants 
trapped in the cold the great geese growing 
weaker by the day until their wings 
could barely lift them above the ground 
so that a gang of boys could catch one 
in a net and drag him to market 
to be cooked and it was then that you 
saw him in his own exile and you 
paid for him and kept him until he 
could fly again and you let him go 
but then where could he go in the world 
of your time with its wars everywhere 
and the soldiers hungry the fires lit 
the knives out twelve hundred years ago

I have been wanting to let you know 
the goose is well he is here with me 
you would recognize the old migrant 
he has been with me for a long time 
and is in no hurry to leave here 
the wars are bigger now than ever 
greed has reached numbers that you would not 
believe and I will not tell you what 
is done to geese before they kill them 
now we are melting the very poles 
of the earth but I have never known 
where he would go after he leaves me.

Lise’s response to Merwin’s poem…


all those years of exile of hunger of privation the goose let go in a world in which there is nowhere for him to go then reaching into the future to find a home. 

we want to know all the suffering has not been in vain. we pray for continuance. we think maybe a miracle… 

we thought we deserved it when the whale came to us in the harbor having made her way upriver we jumped for joy after all those months of grim tallies. 

 when  she brought them to the SPCA such a leap of faith…  her toddlers, her babies, they came over from England with her, and now  she is dropping them off  in their cages. Who adopts siblings at 10 years old?  

I have been wanting to let you know

The goose is well he is here with me

You would recognize the old migrant

He has been with me for a long time

And is in no hurry to leave. 

Can’t the poem just end here? Like Hopkins’ and for all that there lives the dearest freshness deep down things…. Could it not end with bright wings?  with “Ah—bright wings”  Yes give us that “AHHH” isn’t that what poems are for? give us an “ah” an occasion to sigh, deeply.

But no the wars are bigger now than ever greed has reached numbers that you would not/believe  and it gets worse Now we are melting the very poles/Of the earth but….

But…yes please but!!!. But I have never known oh please the balm of miracle which always surpasses our knowing –yes– reward the years of fattening of plumping of storing up  the effort of working your way up the river ….  

But I have never known/Where he would go after he leaves me     

But I have never known/Where he would go after he leaves me

I have to read these lines twice …. such vertiginous tenses . Where  he would go I have never known.  Future tense abandoned replaced by conditional. Where there is no future there can be no future tense 

So this is where you’re going to leave me poet? Twelve hundred hears ago I could have set him free to fly into the future…… and now….. now where?

But I have wanted to let you know that I adopted those siblings. I did.  They are 13 now and have settled in quite well. We  quarantine together and for days at a time they are  the only living beings my hands can hold.

Lise Weil 

Postscript: Lise has been a friend and mentor for so many years that I lost count long ago. She is presently facilitating another writing group that I am a part of and not – often – enough she includes her own response to a poem she uses as a prompt for the rest of us. Once, I fell in love with Lise through her writing… nothing much has changed in all these years.

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