Re-reading Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle on losing

After reading the story of her third great love affair, I think
I understand better. We love even harder, preparing for ash.

On the surface it might look to be more careless— the car keys,
letters, watches; the mind drunk on love but preparing for ash.

The wish to binge equally on solitude, and in the nest of the other:
blissful nights wrapped in the lover’s arms but preparing for ash.

Breakfasts in bed of coffee, croissants, jam; summers spent on some coast,
autumns teaching. Tucking into poems the idea of preparing for ash.

Sweet irony to find the one you can be easy with so late in life,
or when other things have been compromised, preparing for ash.

In 1971 Elizabeth (60) wrote to Alice (28): “The poor heart doesn’t
seem to grow old at all,”
though it knew it was preparing for ash.

I never knew she slept with Alice’s letters, or kept her photo buttoned
into her shirt pocket
— In every pull of longing, the preparation for ash.

In my own ledgers I keep count of my own remorseful, wild, unforetold losses.
The more one loses, the surer one comes to the moment of preparing for ash?

Yet every day the sky changes: deep blue, dark purple, cloud-flecked;
and every day are new pleasures to spend while preparing for ash.

My savings dwindle, my debts increase. I lose friends, loves, children,
possessions to the unknown future; in time, myself— preparing for ash.


In response to Via Negativa: End of days.

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