The American woke
His fire crackling in the cold air
A figure, pottering about in the fog.
And then a musket coughed
Flame and led through the night
And the figure slopped into the mud.
Somewhere in the mountains
A hunter yipped, his barrel smoking.
He’d shot a native who brought only gifts.
And a million more would follow.
A wicker basket creaks
As it warms by the fire
Thawing flakes of snow
Which melt and spiral down
The weave that she wove
Just last winter.
The mines were open then.
And I guess they’re open now,
but not manned.
She thinks of it still: little veins of iron
Nestled in the rocks
Never to know the light and cold.
Or the roughness of her husband’s hands.
She wonders how many meals that stubborn ore
Could afford her child if she only could find it.
She dreamt of finding it. She swore she could.
But it took a town to find it.
It took her husband.
And now the town has all but emptied.
And he has left.
And she has her baskets.
But no one to weave for
And she has her child.
But what little funds its father
Mails home are never enough.
So she watches the snow thaw
Before the coal-fed flames
That flicker through the night
And moisten the wicker basket
And slide down its spiral
Pooling at the bricks
Pooling at the rug
That she’s not sure
His boots will tread again.
He wasn’t really himself, not anymore.
Whenever he joined the ranks, he got lost
In a demonstration of blue.
And war wasn’t war like he thought it’d be.
Not endless struggle with only a moment to breathe
But stretches of precious nothing
And then flickers of light and sound
And then the sprayings of a friend
Who caught one in the chest
Who sunk into the mud
At different depths, depending
On all they stuffed away
In their sacks. In their guts.
And where were they taking themselves, anyway?
Into that demonstration of grey, to the warring side?
Or into the earth, from which they came?
Alfred Lord Tennyson said
That since we see a straight staff bend in a pool,
God must be at work.
So, I wonder if when he spun a crystal prism,
He felt as if he shook His hand.
Because all I feel are photons and rays
Curve and refract.
And I feel beauty too. But worldly beauty
Which is all that rings true.
Which is all that reigns
When the water bends the staff
And Tennyson prays.
We’ve one foot in the present
And another in the ancestral past.
That’s how Dr. Elling signed off,
Uncertain if it really made his point,
But happy with its eloquent ring.
Sometimes our tone is more triumphant
Than our ideas, he decided. But that’s alright.
Sometimes that’s just what we need.
[Originally Published in Vita Brevis]
Light, for the first time in millennia,
Came and lit the cave’s corners and nooks
Like a flashlight down a well.
And then the flare guttered and died,
So, they backed away from the edge
And pressed their backs to the walls.
The moment of revelation was over
But the images would never leave them.
The layers of the earth this cave bore proudly
Before returning to its endless night.
And as they roped up and rappelled down
They didn’t speak.
Because the cavern felt too sacred.
The darkness too silent.
A word, a light, a breath,
It would be a betrayal.
For, somewhere deep within them
They felt at home. Back at Nature’s breast
Off of which they’ve long since been weaned.
Originally Published in Vita Brevis
Otto Dix – Crater field near Dontrien lit up by flares