You told me you were the first one to take my brother hunting, and that he complained all weekend for not getting the chance to shoot. And so on the last day, from a ways down a river he spotted a swan, and asked if he could take a shot. You told him he could, not bothering to say it was illegal to kill a swan, but what did that matter then? He was too far away you assumed; he would miss. You then told me there didn’t seem to be a lapse in time from when he shot, and when the swan’s head was thrown out in a burst of confetti. How the feathers were as ceaseless as shredded red paper caught up in a breeze spreading across the river. And as the neck dipped into the water like a swimmer’s arm, you hoped that what you saw didn’t really happen, that it would come back up as a swimmer would, as if the blood and the feathers were something else, and that the body that gave way to the current, turning as if it were on a spit, could be explained as something that was turning on a spit. Yet it was all right there, you said, as if it were part of the river like Bruegel’s landscape; everything had fallen and settled, and the only thing you could hear were exhales from my brother as if he were about to give confession.
You were not dead yet, but would be the next morning,
and so what we felt most that night had nothing
to do with death, the coming to it or the meaning
we want to prescribe, the what coming before death
taking on more importance in the sudden wake
of it all. That’s a feeling I’ve been trying to shake
like damp hands, that a moment is pregnant
with a certain future, or even the possibility of it.
We drove through Lansing’s side streets to avoid one-ways
while looking for the party you were invited to
by the older woman whose love, by the morning,
you could never have, but at that ageless moment
thought you could. The past can never be exactly what it was,
death showcases like a game show host
the impossibility of our intentions rather than the glimmering
opportunity and possibility set out by them.
For days after I was stuck in a text by Merleau-Ponty,
who said the past is not set at a distance,
but rather becomes the atmosphere of our present.
A year since and I still live in the abode of your death,
thinking back that night we couldn’t find the party,
street after street empty-handed because we couldn’t read
the scribbled down address on the back of the receipt she gave you.
Maybe there was no party and we should have stopped looking,
but like two raccoons trapped in a trash can lurching
at the sides to tip the can over, we just wanted to be set loose
into a world of new immediacies, you captivated
by the image of a woman as vivid and far off as any
Helen of Troy, and me, naive as any simplification
of the night or the heart, and any artery I may have grafted between them
like a play surgeon, a mock-up, to make the world for-me,
that night I wanted alive and beating, where I could steer
any ship and move any cargo asked of me. To tell the truth
our hearts weren’t in the right place looking for the green light
you were told lit the porch. The world is for us given the particular ways
of being us, and so we would have went door-to-door
in rags for eons if our bodies allowed, but where intentions steeps
us in a moment for as long as one is willing or could will,
what is the present but a reaching out, Janus-faced,
back to a known past toward an inevitable future:
the party would end, you needed insulin, I already sipping
airplane shooters when the brief night started closing in on itself.
How cruel-less it would be to be causally impotent,
the antithesis to Kant’s third antinomy,
to have everything take place solely in accordance with the laws of nature,
solving the rationalist’s dilemma:
freedom impossible, no event originates from me.
If only we ourselves weren’t time, the passage from one present
to the next indistinguishable because we are too busy living.
If only we flowed through time lazily, instead of abiding
to its current by its currents from its currents as its currents,
then maybe death can be accepted as simple fact
rather than a question of what could have been:
us finding the house, you not spiking your sugar,
rather than me alone a year later eternally returning
trying to unlearn the constellations,
kicking every trash can, burning every sail,
reconnecting each moment till we fell apart.
Korey Hurni was born and raised in Lansing, MI, and recently earned his MFA at Western Michigan University where he served as Poetry Editor for Third Coast.