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To Be With A Woman:

A Journey Of Love & Death poems, 2007–2010 * * *

by James Deahl

To Be With A Woman Copyright © by James Deahl, 2016 Author photo by Grant Hill All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-1-929878-64-2 Library of Congress control number: 2016951135 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 www.lummoxpress.com Printed in the United States of America


This book is for Shirley, Martha, Aileen, Gilda, and Norma, the women who accepted my love and taught me the secrets of love.


Introduction I generally do not believe that books, especially poetry books, require an introduction. I make an exception here because there is a genuine break between the poetry I wrote from 1964 until 2007 and the poetry contained in this volume. My wife, Gilda Mekler, died on February 7, 2007. Four months later (on June 5th of that year) I wrote the first poem collected here. When Gilda died very shortly after her fiftythird birthday, I thought I would also die. Readers will note that this feeling informs several of the poems that follow. A few months later, my grief entered its second phase. When it appeared that I was not going to die, I passionately wanted to die, I longed for my days of sorrow to end. Eventually, this led to a third and quite shocking phase of what might be called the death experience: the realization that I had, in fact, died with Gilda on February 7th. Our lives ended together. The Creator, however, had other plans for me, and the James Deahl who has written poetry and prose since that date, is a very different writer from the James Deahl who had written and published poetry for over four decades. I retain all the memories of that other poet, and I live in his body. And like him, I also labour in God’s vineyard, as Czesław Miłosz put it so well. Using the same name, I continue the work our Creator set out for us when that other writer was born following the close of World War II. But I truly have been born anew. So this collection opens with twenty-three poems written between June 5 and November 14, 2007. These were published as a limited edition chapbook by my friend and fellow poet, Allan Briesmaster, through his Aeolus House in 2008. This chapbook was my first writing since my death and rebirth. The present volume closes with a handful of love poems written during the latter half of 2010 to an outstanding novelist


and poet, Norma West Linder, who has, perhaps rashly, consented to join her life to mine. Between the Gilda poems of 2007 and the Norma poems of late 2010 lie several meditations on mortality. During this four-year period, a number of my friends died. This had, of course, been happening for quite some time, but their deaths had not been at the front of my mind. Many of these friends were younger than I was. After my wife died, I became keenly interested in the connection between love and death. And I questioned the passionate relationship between human joy and agony on the one hand and, on the other hand, Divine love. I also took a deeper look at the theology of the Christian faith and the teachings of the Torah. I believe this activity is common, if not universal, among people who have already died once and know they will die again. Confronting death tends to clear the mind of all trivial concerns. Throughout this process, the writings of Father Thomas Merton were, and continue to be, my constant guide and companion. As this good priest has written, we should seek solace in God’s love. No one knows my failings better than I do. I don’t propose to rehearse them here. Yet despite being a sinful and undeserving man, somehow — and I’m not sure how — I continue to live and enjoy all the beauty of this physical realm. I write, edit, translate, and do the work set out before me. I continue to love my three daughters and my granddaughter, and I love and honour my Norma and strive to be the man she deserves. All these and more are unexpected, and unearned, gifts. Clearly the bounty of our Creator’s grace and compassion passes all understanding. James Deahl Sarnia, 2016


If Ever Two Were One for Gilda Lorraine Mekler, with undying love January 21, 1954 – February 7, 2007

If ever two were one, then surely we. — Anne Bradstreet

His marriage is a sacramental center from which grace radiates out into every department of his life, and consequently it is his marriage that will enable his work, his leisure, his sacrifices, and even his distractions to become in some degree contemplative. The union of man and wife in nuptial love is a sacred and symbolic act . . . The Greek Fathers thought that before the Fall Adam and Eve were really and literally two in one flesh, that is to say, they were one single being. — Father Thomas Merton

Dark Water Morning offers its bleak wall to my window, and I awaken, still alive without thought, without understanding. Unbelievable! My heart pumps blood, my guts process food, my beard grows longer, all without my help. Beyond the harbour and its dishevelled steel town a black sun rises bringing with it a wind of departure. Casting off their hawsers freighters steam over the horizon never to return. Silence, that old friend, stalks the wharf.

To Be With a Woman •

Those gulls that were everywhere have gone, taking with them my voice. Black locusts surrender the winds that sang in their branches.


In the opaque light of noon an obsidian knife severs my chest, removes my beating heart — yet I still breathe. Even as my viscera go into the dark waters to float or sink near Randle Reef my eyes remain open.

• james deahl

Surely death’s white hand will bring sweet deliverance, but each fresh agony compels the daily continuation of life.


The Last Freedom Dawn cracks open the stones releasing the dark heart of matter, a mineral grief dense as the iron core of a distant, dying star. All night the wind brought no forgiveness, no consolation. Now the sob of a mourning dove echoes from my corkscrew willow. The Pale Rider approaches bearing what message? Ancestors cry out in anguish, in hunger for all they have abandoned. We, too, have nothing but the freedom despair grants, the unbearable freedom of stones caught in the vice of the earth, waiting to sing.

To Be With a Woman • 5

Our Travail Yesterday it was the silence of deep space decorated with the remnants of exploded stars, their vivid gasses rushing into interstellar regions of vast darkness. Today the Creator refuses to speak, preferring to reside in a cloud of unknowing at the impenetrable heart of Sagittarius.

• james deahl

So much of our journey occurs between two great silences. We must either walk the path of the blood-red moon or go down to the river and welcome whatever rises from its black depths.


Descent Into Lograire This year the summer   brought only darkness; the cargo planes again    failed to arrive; the ghost dance    raised no spirits. Eros and Thanatos    continued their struggle — under every pillow    an unsheathed knife ready for use.    All through the night a black heart beat    and would not die.

To Be With a Woman •

Some people say Jesus   showed perfect love could conquer anything,    even death, but here in this fallen world            the grave is our final comfort.    Even our good Trappist, Father Merton,    offers scant escape from the disappointment    of the East and the anguish    of the West.


• james deahl

The geography of life   unravels daily, and the coal dust    flowing through my veins burns like a mine fire    deep in Pennsylvania, its pain searing    the blighted hills. How close we are    to the Land of the Dead! Yet the frantic dancing    — even five full days — does not summon    our loved ones.


All things go; still   those burning hills linger, their ghost fires    flickering in the pit like stars cast to earth    unable to speak. Generations later,    the coal consumed, our land subsides    falling not like light but like a human body,    its bones dissolved, falling into the darkness    of fire.

The Burning All day the relentless heat, the earth longing for a storm to bring release. I lie slick with sweat on the soaked futon failing to come to terms with the James Deahl who died and the shadow of his echo, still living. The hottest summer on record, every person, every tree waiting for something to break. And nothing does — far off thunder rolls, but no cold front arrives, no rain. Not even the birds can sing as dusk closes down without relief. Where have the crows gone that had lived all those years at the foot of the escarpment? At dawn they would go off to return in their hundreds at nightfall. How can anyone continue to live with a dead past growing more tenuous and a blank future looming?

To Be With a Woman •

Perhaps the rain will never come and the heat will scorch the last blue from our sky, the shimmering fish from our seas. Perhaps I will be left with only the burning, the red hand before my face, a fierce radiance through the fallen night.


Bach’s Music How strange it seems, with so much gone Of life and love, to still live on! — John Greenleaf Whittier

After midnight the house becomes a tomb of silence, the spider sleeps in the darkness behind the toaster. Bach’s compositions flow from his love of the Divine, even his darkest bass notes reflect God’s grace. And so the river flows between black banks like our mourned dead pass through shadows that once were trees. The soil bears the scars of our sorrow; if we lie in the earth’s salt, we also may live again.

• james deahl

I listen for that other music in the small hours, the melody no living ears can hear.


Grapes In September Grow early old with grief that then Must to the wastes of nature go — — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every day the Concord grapes grow larger. Soon their purple blush will glow in the dawn. In each life must come a harvest, an autumn day when the sugars attain perfection. Perhaps we must also die to enter perfection like grapes bursting for the press. We drag our grief into stony deserts as if redemption followed suffering. When winter arrives the vines die back, but these scorching sands have survived ten thousand years.

To Be With a Woman • 11

Dark Maps Darker and darker The black shadows fall — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A sudden wind through the Manitoba maple sounds like the beginning of rain. At midnight the darkness of trees is a voice calling from the other side of pain. In deep caverns the fish are blind like me when I awaken from my dream of sight. Herakleitos only valued what he could see and hear, but I cannot do that.

• james deahl

In our mortal flesh the maps of birth and death    are always dark, and my black road beckons.


Lament For My Wife

at Lac Georges, Québec, summer, 2007

Beyond the spruce the lake is inscrutable pewter; through a break in the clouds sunlight touches its shallows. A dragonfly alights near your photo, and is gone. Only heartache issues from the neighbour’s radio — why do songs of anguish survive for generations? Nature remains silent; today nothing is revealed. Our days of pleasure fly like leaves before autumn’s storms. Even beauty offers no reward, no deeper truth

When dusk enters the lake our land withdraws in shadows.

To Be With a Woman •

than these unknowing hills locked in their stone cenotaphs.


If only Providence could be clear to human minds; if only daily life could speak with God’s single voice. When will I comprehend the logos of death and of loss? How can it be you’ve left forever this life we shared?

• james deahl

Perhaps the human heart holds the final place to search.


Midnight Visitation From Czesław Miłosz After waiting for rain that failed to come I sit up late, listening to night’s resounding silence. No wind. No nocturnal animals. Even these trees have become invisible. I didn’t notice him until he spoke: “Your poetry may remain after you, but I walk only paths of blackness, barefoot and weary, seeking consolation.” Ah, my friend, for the dead on this side of eternity there’s no consolation either, only my sojourn from night to night, and the tongueless bells of the forest, growing ever colder throughout these mute hours. “Let us weep, then,” he continued, “and lament the enormity of our losses.” We sat without speech while the small hours expired as if expecting darkness to heal our wounds, or    that our flesh might be spared by the hungry ravens when they arise remorseless with morning.

To Be With a Woman • 15

Full Moon In August The hornets and wasps are busy with my grapes. Under summer’s sun their world flows with purple sugar, the chance of an afternoon rush. I also eat these grapes planted when my wife and I bought this home — a home intended to last my lifetime. Cicadas fill the air with cries of longing. They are answered by the relentless drought.

• james deahl

The sun sinks closing the day, much as my wife’s death closed all the doors of the future. Only this blinding heat lingers. I lie in bed sleepless as if awaiting the hour God will unlock the white honeycomb of His wisdom. A dark wind walks through the hidden forest. This evening even the full moon wears its black mask.


At Princess Point This field of goldenrod blazes at summer’s end as if winter would never come with its white hand of grief. But today the Earth’s song is a Kaddish, and a minyan of cormorants dry their great wings: their final act of prayer.

To Be With a Woman • 17

After The Harvest By mid-August the harvest starts where city roads become country lanes. Late September brings county fairs, church bazaars, the first high school essays. Later, only pumpkins colour the stripped fields beneath autumn’s constellations.

• james deahl

This year I’ll face winter’s steel with Ulysses’ stick and an old man’s heart.


Dear Gilda, the stone from your grave sits in our bedroom by the clock. It was pushed up by the soil as it settled under melting snow, the steady beat of spring rains. This evening is unbearably still; even our crickets, so exuberant in their love, have fallen mute. Nothing moves throughout my dark eternity. Before many weeks pass equinoctial gales will drive in off the lake, but for now     the night air lies calm as a pool protected by its ring of white spruce. The stone’s an odd mixture of grey and brown with lighter patches as if someone had almost thought of quartz, and perhaps I can see an indistinct fossil.

To Be With a Woman •

Miłosz taught a good life is rich in both love and suffering; that living and dead are bound by pacts renewed at gravesides. Together we long for dawn.


When The Yellow Comes From where does the yellow come that fills these grape leaves    as they clench into fists at the close of September? With no more fruit to feed they are playthings of the wind, and their yellow grief can be heard at night before the moon rises. As the hours of darkness lengthen a damp ache rises from the soil and a sorrow enters the vines. Birds fill the wild grapes with a rustle of wings before heading south to escape the long months of death. The birds feed on sugars stored during fiery August, early September, hot as an older woman’s kiss.

• james deahl

Under the Harvest Moon desire becomes acceptance, each veined leaf clutching at all it has lost. This is the gift the yellow brings. By the advent of the Hunter’s Moon these leaves will be down, the dying back starting where vine tips meet cold wind.


The yellow enters the lives of men in late middle age, bringing a longing sharper than November’s storms. It enters the veins of the hands with the silent burning of frost when it turns the goldenrod white in winter’s cemetery. Perhaps in the end there is only this yellow preparing the way for the first of many snows. To the north: Hudson Bay, James Bay; vast wilderness stalked by arctic winds.

To Be With a Woman • 21

Ancient Airs


The calendar says it’s autumn, still not even maples will turn. Thanksgiving offers summer heat to a world soaked in bitterness. I stare deeply into nothing as my heart slowly becomes stone. Life has passed by too quickly; only death will ease my way home.


Hawks circle these empty mountains. A blue jay’s shriek pierces the core of the afternoon. I’ve journeyed hundreds of miles to go nowhere.

• james deahl

The Immortals travel on cranes and black oxen beyond emerald peaks, over our deepest rivers, but only sorrow knows my name.


The Night Is Our Sole Companion in memory of the poetess Li Ch’ing Chao (1084 - 1142)


Tu Fu said a poet’s ideas must be noble and simple. Birth and death, pleasure and pain, and the mysterious Tao. Lost between heaven and earth, like a cloud I‘m torn by night winds, impaled by the moon on her journey. The ashes in the hearth grow cold.


Night birds cry out from dark branches. Boats sleep at their wharves while ghost fires fly in high winds. Sleeping alone I toss all night without comfort.

To Be With a Woman •

The River of Heaven circles the icy sky. Dawn never comes. Every hour is another needle piercing this quaking heart.


james deahl

to be with a woman a journey of love poems,

& death


My wife died on February 7, 2007. Four months later I wrote the first poem collected here. Gilda died very shortly after her fifty-third birthday— I thought I would also die.

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Profile for Lummox Productions

Tobewith sampler  

James Deahl is a Canadian poet who knows the heights and depths of that thing we call "love". This collection of poetry begins with the woma...

Tobewith sampler  

James Deahl is a Canadian poet who knows the heights and depths of that thing we call "love". This collection of poetry begins with the woma...