Saturday, July 28, 2012
Only Bird Songs
—Photo by D.R. Wagner
AN ANCIENT BATTLE
—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove
The battle had long been forgotten.
Someone found a coin recently that had
An image of a sword and a nearly
Obliterated date that someone else
Said was a reference to a particular
Battle. Everyone had died who could
Carry the name of the conflict into
The present. There were layers upon
Layers of dreams that could no
Longer be cut through. Not even
The sound of cloth tearing. No reasons
At all except maybe a hawk announcing
A field to whomever might be interested.
I fell to my knees and prayed for those
Who had been this battle, not even
Certain I could pronounce the place
Correctly. The dream rustled and
Tried to weave my sleep with its images
Of horses terrified and the loud noises
The dying made. Within a week the
Coin had become lost again.
The hawk long disappeared.
A PERFECT MAGIC
There was a certain throw of rocks
That led out into the lake where
We could stand on the greatest of them
And proclaim wishes to the evening.
We were ten years old. We thought
That wishes were indeed magic and because
Summer was upon us and because
The light that held July for as
Long as it did and glowed on our
Shadowed forms, that this was
Enough magic to allow almost
Anything to happen.
What we did not know is that
This perfect magic, while ours
For this blessed moment was really our
Gift to those who came after
Us in time and found themselves
In this same place. Our eyes tearing
Across decades to feel their flesh
Again for a brief moment, to sing
A song to them. But it was
Not a song they knew and all our
Efforts were only bird songs just
Before the sun abandoned the place.
I realized this, dismounted and
Walked carefully, step by step,
Down to the sidewalks of a neighborhood
I would truly never be able
To walk again. The wind
Already quickening across the trees,
Cutting through the window, open
Against July and telling me
To 'Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
We will take care of everything.'
I leaned against the wall,
Slid into a squat and stared at the fire.
The flames looked like toys. They popped
And whistled, made reference to many
Things, nearly forgotten, made new even
As they disappeared into warm ash
Carved on a breeze. Temples of smoke.
We had been working hard. The floods
Were coming and the crests of the waves
Would carry demons, naming the heart
And all it provinces, flooding its every
Room before a breath could be taken,
Slamming the bodiless ghosts together, thousands
Upon thousands of them. We would pick
Up the bodies later, when the lights
Finally returned to the room.
A first star. The sweep of angel wings
Across an infinite stillness.
From here I could look down at all
That was below as from a great height.
The fire. The great waves moving over
Everything. Light going out ahead of the waves.
Nothing ever stopping. Breathing.
These pools look as if the season
Has forgotten them, left them to struggling
As their dark tadpoles struggle, barely able
To cover themselves with what water remains,
Tiny, amphibian feet pushing the mud aside.
They leave no track when they dry. The cracked
Earth, the clicking of cicadas upon the best of summer.
A puff of dust pulled up from skeleton bird nests,
Finger bone left by a wind that was not supposed
To have a skeleton. It was supposed to disappear
Into the woods, only dogs would be able to track
It. But for the fires and the cold light of the stars
We would not know of this at all, thinking that
The season had fallen exactly there and the
Change to Autumn would feel like someone
Had only slipped a ring on our finger and we
Would not notice it until the temperatures dropped.
Until it was October all around us once again,
A few rain storms causing the pools to appear
Again. A willow tree insisting it knew what desire
Was all about, urging us on deeper and deeper,
Across the meadows, into the darker woods.
‘This all looks so familiar,’ we would think,
But we would have been changed by everything
We had seen, sit on a fallen tree trunk, listening
Carefully to the croaking of the frogs.
—Photo by D.R. Wagner
The women of the shoreline villages
Called him ‘a sensitive’ for he could,
They said, place his hand on the water
And know who was upon the open sea.
‘Ulysses is very near a whirlpool!’
He would say or ‘There is a high masted
Ship becalmed in a stagnant sea
With an albatross dead upon its deck.’
He spoke of waterfalls as songs.
‘The Father of Waters’, he said of Niagara.
He knew when the ice gave up its embrace
Opening the Arctic seas for the great
White bear and her tiny cubs.
‘The rain is on Namaqualand now
As it is on the Saguaro and the
Boojum trees.’ And they would think
He was speaking in tongues.
His body would shiver with the wild
Tides that engulfed Fundy and the rushing
Of the Amazon revealed rainstorms
Pelting the backs of black and silver monkeys,
Surprised at their fig-eating by the
Boom of great thunderstorms.
His voice was of the snows over
The rocks of the highest peaks
And he could hear the million
Languages of the surf on all the shorelines
In the world.
The women would watch his pale form,
So supple and so fluid, meander
Through the deep ravines that led
To shoreline or though the flat
Plains where rivers sighed with the heat
Summer placed upon their backs
As they idled below the dragonflies,
Quick as thoughts above them,
Red and green ghosts of any summer.
Then, in the Fall one year, just before
The changing of the seasons, he was
Gone. He is remembered in the late
Season rains. His smile has become
Spring mists. His very breath still
Moves the trees, sensitive even
To the call of seabirds across the lagoon.
A FAILED MISSION
We were watching the tall ships
On the far edges of the harbor.
The storms were on the ocean.
The sea was in an extremely bad mood.
St. Elmo's fire lit up the tops of the masts.
The ships began to look like heavenly messengers.
We had come down from the north.
So much had been broken.
We had little food but we did have
Beautiful dogs who could move sheep.
We will not come by this way again.
These are dead eyes that stare
Out at me. I know these lions.
I know these shining stones.
I know all the greens of these forests.
I know the limits where darkness
Can own any body and occupy
Its vision with the stones
That suggest understanding but
Are not. Thin songs, made of skulls
And wind blowing through hollow bones.
'Try this flute. It was your lover's
Ulna, so beautiful the butterflies
Will land in your hair just to listen.'
We move out to the garden if
Only to rest for a moment.
Time rushes past in a flaming red chariot.
One barely notices until we begin
To bleed and a strangeness
Composed by great age begins
To invade our bodies, carrying
On all night as if we were
Made of pure youth,
Our dogs pushing us closer and
Closer together until we are
Unable to move any farther.
A HANDFUL OF BLUE STONES
I’ve seen that little bird before.
It seemed wild but it actually
Lived with the gypsies, never
Quite a pet, always a tall
Tale. It could land on a
Saddle horn while one was
Riding and one would not notice it.
When she opened her hand, it
Was full of blue stones. They
Looked like Opal, but
Seemed to have memory. I would
Always be the other in the dream
And have the ability to speak
Ancient languages without knowing
If they would be understood. Other
Dreams careened into me.
They sounded like nightingales
And contrived to find rest for me.
Stop. Please stop,
I asked the sea.
I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.