BACHMANN’S WARBLER (DECONSTRUCTION OF A POET)
TARA BERGIN writing after RECONSTRUCTION OF A POET by ZBIGNIEW HERBERT
Who counts the money?
Who sits behind a shield
and tells me the phone isn’t safe?
Who has her lunch at one?
Who shows me what I’ve done
and makes me poorer – richer –
whatever I want?
Who demands my number and my key?
Who is always warning me?
Who is the nice lady in the bank?
Is she Death? Is she Love?
What feeling is she? What state might she be?
Let’s think of a different word for melancholy.
Can we? Shall we?
O Students –
I must address you from my death-bed
from my death-chair, from my death-desk.
I must stand at the window,
and address you thus:
don’t refuse to taste the sweet –
to taste the salt –
don’t refuse it always.
If I was the cause of your unhappiness
I cannot apologise.
I was – of course – the cause of mine.
I said ‘yes’. I said ‘yes’ several times.
Remember this: ‘yes’ is not always the right answer.
But it might be. How will we know?
I have struck –
twenty-one times –
the lighthouse in the Florida Keys;
I have been shot by the plume hunter;
I have not made a nest for ninety-five years;
I am on the verge of extinction;
I have begun my decline –
And can you hear me,
O Students of the heart’s revolution?
It’s true I lack the black patch on my throat;
it’s true I have a whitish eye-ring;
it’s true my eyes are swollen:
I am disappearing!
And when I am gone,
my feathers will be guarded
from academic scrutiny.
But even so,
I will be used and abandoned;
and exposed to ridicule.
I speak to you from my lowest ebb;
from my deepest speechlessness;
from my furthest silence.
I dream of babies and despair.
I try to kiss the postman but he slams the door.
Well, why ring the bell so loudly?
I speak to you in a voice
no one has heard for decades.
I speak to you through lips
of salt and sugar.
Now, answer me:
Who changes the currency?
Who stamps the receipts?
Who says the gesture of authenticity
is also an aesthetic gesture?