Looking out across the horizon,
I imagine the American Empire itself
enfolded in that stately
snarl of purple clouds
sailing toward me
about to crash
into sheer rockface. Here
the air glows, granite boulders
pulse with a meaning
that words no longer contain.
The wind smells of rain
falling on dry soil
and ozone, silvery and sharp.
And then it is upon us: that air no longer air but water,
colors streaming, peonies melting, foxgloves bowing, roses
pressing their drenched faces against the trellis.
Lightning reveals all things in negative,
every card reversed, one bright flash dealt out,
then another, then wind moves through dark trees.
Take that, or that, or —
Last night in a crowded dream
I looked out across a long green field.
The sky, sooty yellow, darkened into twilight.
Something waited. As we watched—five, ten, one hundred
immense glowing sky lanterns slowly rose, drifted upward
buoyed by the flaming candles tucked inside,
great loops of rope suspended below them. On each rope
a young monk stood, silently holding on.
Sometimes two balanced together, touching shoulders.
Heads shaved, saffron robes flowing, they faced forward
and resolutely squared their shoulders.
We couldn’t see their faces but knew they were not afraid.
We watched and the animals watched
until their lights were as small as stars.
Then we prepared
What we know of the world is balanced on
this beetle with the neon pink face stripes;
the stately dowager beauty
of the faded wild columbine
upright but deconstructing;
the lazy questions and answers
of birds at twilight. The obedient grass
bows over paths we’ve beaten to reach this place,
where the air still smells of honeysuckle and water and truth.
Safety nests under the brambles but nowhere else.
Here, we must know the predators: their beauty, their disguises,
the deep reach of their sight and hearing,
and that some of us will die in their mouths. This moon,
this scrap of eyelash caught in bare branches,
is sometimes the only thing that lifts our hearts. Once freed
from the tree-tops, it chases the stars, those hieroglyphs hinting
at the nature of life behind the scrim:
transient glances, fugitive color, like the signal lights
of great ships or the green flash of fireflies
pulsing in an unknown code.
The pain sinks deep into muscles
strained on the rough trek into the rocky cavern
we did not know we contained
and have not mapped. Some of us are confused,
some outraged. Some insist that life is still spinning
in a pure and predetermined orbit.
If we could hold grief in our arms like a newborn
would we see its other face –our love for the world?
When grief rises behind my tongue, into my throat,
I open my mouth and utter words
in a language I have never studied:
The void offers up
genus and species, the flavors of the world roll under the tongue:
sweet, sharp, salty, pungent, piercing,
pulse in our veins until we are sated.
The little blue Schizachyrium scoparium
stings my calves as I pick early berries
while the secret names tumble off my tongue
so that they may live in the air a little longer.
buteo jamaicensis, a red-tail hawk dips and circles.
Even the caterpillar Orgyia leucostigma,
so voracious, so toxic, so beautiful,
may be erased if I do not say its name
with appropriate solemnity. Or even if I do.