The First Sorrow
What memory, the sinuous courses of it,
twist twist twist:
a distant chapel bell,
a moth that trembles to a light,
the burdened branch, the bristle of autumn.
She asks, moon-eyed: when was the first sorrow?
With earthgrit upon my tongue,
I reply in Latin
so that she does not understand --
I will not make a pilgrimage to the past,
I will not wriggle in the dirt.
see how I can take out my teeth
and pop them back in again,
and we are horrified,
but we laugh.
Back then I was a starling
with songs of whistles and wheezes,
and impersonations of any other bird
so that I could seem less like me
and more like you.
And I frightened the black birds:
a sharpened face and a sword-fighter,
though I did not know
how crows will mob a hawk
or who else might mob the crows;
what kind of men might.
At first, we are shielded by innocence
and love, and that we know nothing but this.
And we make our gods from that clay,
only then, when, at last we see them,
we rage and tear them down.
Father says, you want a dog,
this is a cockatoo, but its name is dog,
and we are confused,
but we laugh.
When was the first sorrow?
A dark wing ago, the length of a man ago:
ah, long ago, I tell her, long ago.
The image is The Waterfall Fairy by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. It's in the public domain and is here: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Waterfall_Fairy_by_Ida_Rentoul_Outhwaite.jpg#mw-jump-to-license
It's not the one that inspired this poem, that's called The First Sorrow by the same artist. You'll have to look it up as I'm not sure it's in the public domain in the UK. I've used it on Twitter though so you can also see it there.