My Expedition                                                                        —Lawrence Raab

And so the ashen moon and the cold stars
burned on the lake beyond the glow
of our fire, and I thought, Isn’t it time?

We had come too far to turn back,

hacking through the jagged thickets
while all around us the forest
grew older and closer until
I was warned that no one
before us had ventured
past this black lake and its stillness.

Then a branch snapped—then nothing.

How clear it was
that the one whom I sought had chosen
to deny me her presence.  Oh I knew

you were there, near me and watching.

After all, what kind of proof
does certainty require?

Isn’t this what we feel
when we first fall in love?
When we know how the future
can only unfold?

But the rest of my party
was afraid, demanding
we return, insisting
I could never survive if I stayed.

Others who set out as I did 
have spoken
of the same disappointments.

Sometimes a haunting cry
from among the ancient trees
is added to the tale.  But everything
they say they saw I had seen already.

And most of it was nothing
but heavy branches
adrift in the firelight, and a voice
almost like my own

urging me to acknowledge
the purpose of my expedition—
how it had always been

to desire you, my love,
then travel this far

to be able to leave you behind. 


That morning I’d been thinking
Stephen Crane was right
about the cruelty of God,
even if we’ve decided he isn’t here
anymore, acting like a child

with an expensive toy,
trying to figure out
how many ways it can be dismantled.
That morning two friends
were not yet dead but close to it.

Once they’d carried their cancers around
without a sign, and then
all that was left was understanding
too much about the future.
That morning a woman I’d just met

was telling me how badly she felt
when she kept her dog alive
and let him suffer because she loved him.
“I’ll never do that again,” she said.
Stephen Crane died of tuberculosis

in a spa in Germany
at the edge of the Black Forest. 
He was 28.
But sometimes a man lives to be 100.
Then he catches a cold and is gone.

Sometimes we want to be convinced
these pieces fit together. Or we want
to release ourselves from that desire.
“God lay dead in heaven,”
Stephen Crane wrote in a poem.

“Angels sang the hymn of the end.”

Lawrence Raab

Lawrence Raab is the author of nine collections of poems, including What We Don’t Know About Each Other (Penguin, 1993), which was a winner of the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the National Book Award, and Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts (Tupelo, 2015), which was longlisted for the National Book Award, and named as one of the Ten Best Poetry Books of 2015 by The New York Times. A collection of his essays, Why Don’t We Say What We Mean? appeared in 2016, and his most recent collection of poems, The Life Beside This One (Tupelo Press), was published in the fall of 2017. He has taught literature and writing at Williams College since 1976, where he is the Harry C. Payne Professor of Poetry Emeritus.

ISSN 2472-338X
© 2018