On the Scaffold

This poem is one of the forms that my obsession with the threshold has taken over the years.  It began with a file of quotations on the idea of the threshold.  It then became a sort of experimental prose piece that was comprised more of these quotations than my own words.  Both of these pieces still exist, and I am still working on them, more or less, but neither will see a finished form any time soon.

I only began working on this current form of the project when my brother Andrew asked me to write a spoken word piece to be read over some music for a concept album that he is writing.  I have never written for music or for a specific time length before, and I have seldom tried to turn prose into poetry either.  I am still not entirely happy with the result, and I still have to reduce it by something like thirty seconds, so any suggestions would be welcomed.

Also, because of how it came to be, this particular poem borrows, even plagiarizes, from any number of authors.  It has gone through so many iterations that I am no longer even able to list them all with any certainty, but I know at least that I am drawing text from Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Martin Hiedegger, Annie Dillard, Jacques Derrida, Leon Rooke, Emmanuel Levinas, Robert Graves, and Maurice Blanchot.  If there are others I have missed, they have my sincere apologies.

On the Scaffold

Where I have fallen, my eyes can feel the bruises in the door,
and the flecks of paint that have escaped the remover,
and the grain,
and the varnish,
and deeper too, to its cutting edge,
the edge that has cut me from myself like a guillotine cuts a head from a body.

I am waiting,
waiting for the blade to be hoisted again,
to fall again,
to cut me again,
through skin and muscle and vein and throat and bone,
to spill my blood again on the scaffold,
again on the threshold.

I am bleeding myself empty,
covering the floor,
the threshold,
all of it,
in my blood.

This door,
with the bruises and the flecks of paint,
my door,
its blow is true.
It bereaves me of myself.
There is no escaping it.
It is always a guillotine,
a mandaia,
a sharpened and a dividing blade.
It makes the threshold an altar stone.

I am there
on the altar, the scaffold,
before the blow I cannot escape,
seeing everything with extraordinary distinctness,
passing through the moments as if they were an infinite time,
a vast wealth of time,
an endless time left to live,
an infinity on the scaffold,
on the doorstep,
where every moment is an age,
where I feel the obligation of counting,
every minute,
as it passes,
of not missing
one.

Surely this is the place of epiphany,
this infinite moment.
I wait,
and tremble,
and know,
stretched on the block,
and suddenly hear above me the clang of the iron,
the clang that I must hear,
that I am sure to hear,
the clang for which I will listen purposefully,
though it takes only the tenth part of a second.

I am face down,
tasting the earth,
eavesdropping on the blade and the whetstone whispering to one another.
This waiting,
this moment,
this minute,
is forever real,
as real as death and eternity,
a moment and a sound that no longer belong to their time.

It is this sound for which I listen continually,
again and again,
with the closing of each door behind me,
because it bears the consolation
of no longer having to live in the shadow of death,
in the infinite time that approaches death.

It consoles,
because my greatest fear is not that I will die,
but that I will live,
that I will be reprieved,
that I will endure the agony of a falling blade that will never fall,
that I will be condemned,
not to death,
but to life,
one infinite moment following another,
in the shadow of the death that never came,
the blade that never fell,
the door that never closed.

It is not death that is intolerable.
What is intolerable is that I might be robbed of death,
that I might not take it in my arms,
savour a last breath on its lips.

Yet, there is a greater fear,
that the blade will fall,
but that I will nevertheless survive it,
even if only for a moment,
to know that it has fallen,
to know,
for a second,
or for five seconds,
or for an eternity,
cut from life and from self,
but counting out the moments of eternity,
counting the beats,
the bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
and to know that living with the living is no longer enough,
that now it is also necessary to live with the dead,
to know that death that will not let me die,
but will leave me waiting always for a further death,
where drops of blood count the passing of time,
until I must die once more,
again
and again,
for the door always remains to be entered,
and the threshold always remains to be crossed,
and the death always remains to be suffered,
however often it is suffered.

I will always be among the poor dying that are going from threshold to threshold,
because nobody goes beyond the threshold,
except by madness.

I die continually.
I die always, and every time alone,
because no one can die this death with me,
because there will never be anyone who can bear my lonely death with me,
because my death is in every case mine.

Yet even so,
my own death is not only for myself,
but also for those who are witnesses to it.
It is for the crowd who will see it only as a carnival,
for those few who will see it for the first time in horror,
for those fewer who saw it once with horror,
then with indifference,
and now with curiosity.

My death is for these others.
I am responsible to them
and for the deaths that they will die,
though each of us dies alone,
and so I will endure the aloneness
of the scaffold and the falling blade,
of the threshold and the closing door,
because the spectacle of my death,
of the blow that I cannot escape,
do not wish to escape,
which I anticipate,
am always anticipating again,
this spectacle makes me responsible for those who witness it.

In this moment,
only in this moment,
death tears off the mask of life,
and the true face is revealed,
and the severed head is held above the gathered crowd,
still warm,
so that they may recognize themselves in it,
my see their death in mine,
bloody and severed,
held before them.

This is the only place where the fear of death becomes a salvation.

This place,
this threshold,
is always hard,
always stony,
because it bears the doorway,
because it sustains the middle in which the two,
the outside and the inside,
penetrate each other.
This threshold bears the between,
and pain has petrified it.
Pain has made the threshold stone,
and I must cross this place,
pass and surpass it,
the last instant of my own life,
a life that will have been,
in any case,
so short.

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