First the smoke was dead black
Then as pure a white as snow might
Wish upon itself, quick as a blink.
We made our way through the glade
Chasing the plume. I listened to the rhythm
Of our running. The soft thump on the ground.
What was it tilted—perhaps the river
That ran along the place? A space
Named for its cataracts yet permeated
With a sanguine, if imperfect span
Of silences, like the view of a thing
Caught only by the corner of a glance.
Nothing remained as we made the course.
There was a cenotaph, doors open wide
As when sleep fades into this choir of reality.
We stood there a long time catching our breath.
The sun, stuck behind the trees for an inordinate
Time, as if blind. What would we make of this?
"We are late again," Ramon said, picking up a stick,
Scratching the ground with it. "We are too late
Once again. Even our breath has fled."
I looked inside the empty room. No smell of smoke,
No image but the purity of its marble, the graceful
Columns insisting on at least an architecture.
"Not even an idea," I said. Ramon laughed.
"We have the weather," he said, gesturing.
"We know as much as that," he said.
Old things, the trees, the meadow, the black,
Tilting river that still had no name. Hurry please.
We eventually reached the night, knowing so few things.
AND BY JUST STEPPING OUT HERE NAKED
I wish they weren’t shooting guns all night.
They had been waltzing until the sun was
Completely gone. Then the shouting started.
We were given small charcoal figures that had
Mouths carved on them. They could scream.
And they did. When we held them, we bled.
Children, we too would shout but the light was blank.
Rain dripping down from the corners of our own
Mouths. Tracer paths across the gorge. We waited
For murder and it got dressed in its white suit
And it put on its gloves
And it made a smile out of blood
And it stumbled down the street drunk,
Cursing everybody. The gold that was
The heart spent before the beauty of the world.
Why should any of us give a damn about that now?
Whose boots push us down into the puddles on the streets?
The skull of this war isn’t any different than this lost city.
A beautiful blue wing rises up and covers everything
As if it were a glacier collapsing into our very selves.
And here it is again, late at night and the guns
Keep asking us to kneel down and forget what
Is beautiful. I’ve had it, brothers and sisters.
There isn’t any other place to think about things
Like this. We sing behind the human house,
Unchain the tigers and they become extinct.
Boy, did they ever look terrible. God, they say,
Watched over them. Our very shadows have caught fire.
Excuse me, I am out of breath my dear, dear friends.
I find myself in the throat of God for an instant.
Why, when I understand all of this clearly, do you throw
Death down upon us once again? We are trying
To get some sleep. Come out here for a minute.
Just look at all those stars, will you. Amazing.
THE WESTERN LANDS
By the time we got there, the procession
Was almost finished. The sun on the west
Bank of the Nile looked as if was bleeding
Into the water. There was singing and twanging
From the harpists and the most wonderful incense
Filled the air. We stopped and waited.
Ramon loaded some rockets into the tubes
And passed them to the patrol. "Here’s your
Canopic jars, boys." He called us by name:
"Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Qebehsennuef.
You hit the pall bearers and the guys
With the torches. Don’t stop until you have
No more rockets." He gave us linen head-wraps
With Isis knot amulets. "Wear these all the time.
When the screaming starts, grab the scrolls.
They will never know who we are. We will be
The ones to open the mouth. Then we get out.
Fast. The sun should not be quite down yet."
We allowed him to paint our eyes and check
Our side arms. We knew we were the Gods.
We were there to open the Western Lands.
When we left there were too many bodies
To count. We made fires of them and faded
Back into the swamps. It always worked that way.
We were Shabtis* of a sort. Thousands
Of years from now people would be killing
Each other in the streets of Cairo. We would
Still be resting from having had to leave time
Once again. "Here’s your canopic jars boys,
Make the best of it. Work isn’t the same these days."
*Shabtis were tomb figures that came to life
whenever there was work to be done in the
afterlife. There were more than enough of us
to get anyone through the year.
The herds of horses were heading for the shore.
They would surely move through the canyon,
Through the wilderness, the waltz of souls.
No one had forgotten the luminescence
Their abandonment had invoked the last time
This had happened. The breaking the full moon
Did that evening without our asking. The mathematics
Of the invisible, koto-like in its own cathedral.
Yoshi was down on his knees, looking though
The legs of his cow herd. The Seven Pilgrims
Were walking in a single file. At the crossroads
Everything became visible. He looked to us
For a moment only and was gone. The cows
Milled around for a few minutes, then moved on.
The sea ghosts. While the horses were in the surf
We could see the empty bodies of the dead wearing
The white triangle keeping the spirits away from them.
The horses began to change before our eyes.
THE LONELINESS OF BIRDS
They knew angels by their names.
They were heralds for them, carrying
Banners and strings of lights that became the stars.
They were the lovers of the trees.
Their feathers were soft for this reason.
Their songs were known by all of the land.
In the Fall, the angel began turning
All ways before the gates of Eden.
Dreams no longer had birds.
Their music became notes spun in the throat,
The screaming of hawks, the iterations of starlings,
The lexicons of cuckoos, all troubling the seasons.
These birds fly above our heads, are afraid
When we move toward them, squawk and gesticulate
When we try to call them to ourselves.
We are not salvation for them. The clouds
Are princes of the atmosphere, the rain
Heralds of earth’s breathing.
Birds watch now with cool eyes.
They speak only to their kind.
They remember always that which has been lost.
THE YELLOW TOWN
Where we pulled up, the slate
Beach was surrounded by the ice,
Surrounded by the fire to meet
The challenge of the fight. We
Went on to the yellow town.
For it was long, long that found
Us this far from home, spun upon
The sea, close by the screeching gulls.
We knew we’d come too far and still
It was not enough of hardship to claim
Either darkness or the light as our own.
We possess the sword of light. We possess
The language that unlocks the perfect doors.
We too are like birds as we fly our thoughts
From their small prisons to see these horizons.
Still we fear the journey, afraid to stay too long,
Thinking we may be discovered as mere
Bagatelles posing as warriors, champions of knowledge,
Without guile or the manners of children about us.
We have not made up our names or birthed our souls.
It is only that they have traveled so unrecognized
For so many miles; we no longer believe we may
Own the Spring, that perhaps we have made the world
Up as we traveled. This not so. Help us pull the boat
Onto the beach that we may go into the staring town.
THE GOLDEN CHILD
What have we forgotten?
The way back to our room?
The round blue ball covered
With water that we kept floating
In space, spinning it the while?
The little watercolor we used
To keep in the kitchen near the door?
It showed a meadow with a small
Lake just beyond where that fence was.
The field near the woodlot where
Summer could always find us
In the late evenings, sitting together.
Sometimes we would talk about
The future as if we might find
Ourselves there someday, still together.
The path to the barn covered with snow.
How anything could look like that,
So white it was almost blue in moonlight.
The box on the top of the dresser.
You said it was for dreams but it too
Has become lost. Perhaps the wind
Knows something of it or that breeze
That comes just now as we fall asleep.
Yes, perhaps it does know after all.
This song is small.
No one will notice it.
I will place it here
Near your heart
So only you will hear it.
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poems and pix!
Two notes: Taylor Graham will be signing copies of her new book, What the Wind Knows, at Placerville News (by the bell tower) today beginning at 11am. By the way, you can read an interview with her in Writer's Digest at www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/taylor-graham-poet-interview
And a memorial service for Marie J. Ross, our Stockton poet who passed away recently, is planned for Sunday, March 16, 10am-noon at Goodwin Gallery, 1902 Pacific Ave., Stockton.