MY GRANDMOTHER WAS A GIANT BIRD
My grandmother was a giant bird
Who lived in the South. Sometimes
In the evening she would look through
The mirrors in our house, which was
The world between sunrise and sunset,
And she would weep and speak softly
To us. Sing, she would say. Dream,
She would say. Vanish, she would say
And we would lose ourselves in the mirror
And see only our own faces and those
Around us. It was like dreaming a river.
Now we have grown old and still
We notice how delicate the stars seem,
How captivating the plains are as they reach
Toward their own history. The smoke from
Villages, far, far away. There are ancient
Lands there, my grandmother would say.
She could construct shadows without
Begging the light for help. She knew
Time personally and would talk to us
Of his inexhaustible shaping, as if he were
A sculptor, show us the lines around her eyes,
How her wings grew tired following him.
Please do not think you exist, she would say.
You will become bound by laws that can catch
At your memories and tear them from your mind,
Tear them from your eyes and all things will be
Removed from your hands. You will not be able
To touch them at all. They will be like paintings
Where the landscape remains caught for eternity,
The horses moving slowly up the sides of the hills,
A soft laughing in the distance, Dust rising from near
We would watch her attain the tree tops and tilt
Her head in our direction, not knowing if it were
Farewell or just the changing of the seasons.
We miss her secrets, how she spoke of dreams,
What she may have meant when she spoke of memory.
It has become lost beyond all recall.
Whatever precision my words once had
Has fled, taking with them the street
Where I once spoke with the clarity
Flags possess when seen upon tall
Masted ships or a spire, scarcely
Visible across miles of plains,
Further out than the streets could ever
Be. Beacons on this expanse of distance.
We’ve seen them, sir, from the top
Of those tall trees you can make out
On the farthest horizon. It took us
All day to cross to there. We were
Overwhelmed by sky and there are
Winds, sir, great winds, tornadoes
Full of birds and a green dusty light
That did not did not want us to return to
Report, sir. These instruments
Sought our souls, sir. Even death
Seemed beautiful to us out there.
But we attained the trees and
We climbed them just as evening came.
We saw the travellers in the distance.
We believe they are fleeing before us
As the hours of the day do.
There were scattered lights, constellations
We did not know and such quiet
One could hear a bird sleeping.
For the longest of moments
We did not know the way back.
The light was extremely fine. It
Could have been used to polish
Mirrors. We longed for music.
Yet we came back here
To help prepare the weapons,
To continue on past that dust,
To glory in these moments,
To come back to the places
Our ancestors have called out
To us. Their voices are so faint.
They ride horses that flicker like
Ghost horses might and we must
Hurry on toward these places
Lest the jewels of the stories
Become lost in the dark,
Lest we forget the pain miracles
Like this demand, lest we become an
Inscription on a dusty tomb.
When the doors were locked
They began to cut lemon wood
For its pleasing scent,
To construct a pleasing temple,
One seen only in the afternoon
On the most pleasant of days,
When its lovely fountains are part
Of all conversations, as the jasmine
Blossoms and the filtered light
Through the trees also become most pleasant.
There were songs rising as prayers
Into the surrounding jungle.
The eyes of the tigers looked
At the locked building.
They smelled the lemon wood
Ripped from the lumber
By the kerf of the saw.
I was told that I could not know
How this afternoon would end.
But I have heard the clack
The swords make, I understand
The words of the songs. I can tell
What, though fragile, might be eternal,
What might remain mysteries and
What might become clear.
The tigers sit just inside the dark.
This will be their last day.
We will not see them again.
They will all have died
By the time you read these words.
I know these things by heart:
The elephant, a sailing ship, a hand,
The particular shapes of the moon.
This does no good as they are not
As they seem, but inform me of other things:
A giraffe, two, the tall letters f and f
In its name can look down at the elephant.
And the elephant; farther down, the hand.
The hand points to the sailing ship, but it
Is too far away to signal now that we
Have spent so much time trying to recall
How these same things are mentioned
In conversation and what they might
Be doing there. I took the elephant
By the hand down to the sailing ship.
By the time this gets said, the sailing
Ship has departed the harbor, hands
Waving from around the shore.
A new vocabulary awaits just out of sight.
He remains inside the body of the rain,
Still upon his chocolate horse, still a fire
Within his brain.
The weather bends in upon him, stealing
His serenity, replacing it with pain
That pulls as if upon a sacred door,
That steals more with every step,
Until he is consumed with pain.
This is not the course as it was explained.
It is stiffer, full of nettles, laced with poisons,
Drained of all humanity, carved into dice,
Tossed upon the blackest shore,
An airless solitude carried through his veins.
You will see him beyond all midnight,
Not quite stable, not quite sane.
He pursues a dead horizon.
He still strives, but strives in vain
To find a cloak to hide his darkest
Stains, the deeds that made his blood
Run cold, so no humanity remains.
We pray a peace for you whatever your
Domain. We will seek not to deter you,
Though you profane all we ascertain
For we cannot quit your presence
And we dare not speak your name.
THE MUSE, AMUSED
She braids labyrinths into her hair.
Her mouth quenches a thirst long in
The loins, painted into our souls
And those eyes, those eyes, seen by
Tigers from miles away. They pierce
The deepest jungle and still know
To see the beauty of horses in the
Moonlight, on the steppes of
Distant uplands, drifting toward
Mountains. Lightning touches itself
There too intimately to be spoken aloud.
Her lips find purchase in what words
We hear, but do not comprehend. Her words
Are like wild things upon them and
We await a private pentecost to
Know them and what they might say.
The necklace of bones that is
Our skeleton. We witness
A tree that fruits human skulls,
The long walkway that skirts
The river. We watch ice move
By slowly in giant flows.
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poetry and artwork. D.R. will be reading and signing his books at the UCD Bookstore on Monday, April 15, at noon.