When I came across this poem by the American poet Peter Viereck (1918-2006) it struck me as such a powerful, intimate statement of grief that I immediately went looking for more by the same poet, but, as sometimes happens, could find plenty of verbal pyrotechnics but nothing that seemed to match this one for feeling. Still, as I’ve said before, one breakthrough poem is more than most of us manage.
Which Of Us Two
When both are strong with tenderness, too wild
With oneness to be severance-reconciled;
When even the touch of fingertips can shock
Both to such seesaw mutuality
Of hot-pressed opposites as smelts a tree
Tighter to its dryad than to its own tight bark;
When neither jokes or mopes or hates alone
Or wakes untangled from the others; when
More-warm-than-soul, more-deep-than-flesh are one
In marriage of the very skeleton, –
When, then, soil peels more flesh off half this love
And locks it from the unstripped half above,
Who’s ever sure which side of soil he’s on?
Have I lain seconds here, or years like this?
I’m sure of nothing else but loneliness
And darkness. Here’s such black as stuffs a tomb,
Or merely midnight in an unshared room.
Holding my breath for fear my breath is gone,
Unmoving and afraid to try to move,
Knowing only you have somehow left my side.
I lie here, wondering which of us has died.