Ianua: Day Zero plus Twenty-One

Placed down as if with forethought—
centred in the sheep-worn gutter that meanders
just above field line through the bracken
and furze and follows the interlocking beauty
of the dry stone wall—with both eyes
open and each pupil a tiny snip
in the scrim of its iris.  It is fear

and it’s instinct that have me turning
to reconnoitre the rough spread fan
of the hillside above me.  Beyond the wall
the fields’ tamed aprons sloping down
to the road.  Nothing beyond this

but the ocean’s vast wet sex of lunacy
and salt.  No evidence of a body.
No blood.  Just a slim hem of red
on the skin of a neck torn like felt,
and strung, still, on their cord—clean
and flensed—two perfect
vertebrae.  Newborn, then; stolen, perhaps,
soon after birth’s greased flush and spill
because as small as it is,
it would fit, with room to spare,
in the palm of a hand.  Fox, then, I think,
because I’ve seen how the foxes stitch
the russet flames of their appetites
back and forth, searching
for a newly dropped lamb among the flock.

Remember that moment on Moreau’s
strange island when Prendick, lost
in the tangle of the heat-bruised jungle,
discovers the rabbit?  When he finds the slack
headless mass before him on the narrow trail?
The sudden upsurge of dread?
And we sense his faith in benevolence
coming to an end and we know he feels
the held breath of every living thing

in Eden—
why else the luxurious ferns
why else that triangular patch of glittering water

why else the luminous blue of the sky
before hell, literally, breaks loose?
Along the horizon the heat’s blue shimmy

like smoke and, high above me, the tremble
of a kestrel in bright air; a few high clouds
and sunlight breaking like an animal
over the fields and I am falling
to my knees on the turf
before the lip’s black flange, on my knees
before a row of teeth, each one glossy
and slick, each one pink-tinged and almost
translucent like the fleshed seeds
with which Persephone made her covenant
with the dead.  And who among the living
doesn’t want this: not banishment,

but permission?  And with a snap
heard in the fingertips each tooth breaks
cleanly out from the bone of the jaw.  And who
among the living would be willing
to judge me, desperate as I am—desperate,
I am desperate, I am wild and desperate,
my father three weeks in the grave.  Balanced

in my hand, like the body of a flute,
the jaw’s narrow strap with its empty sockets.
And how can death not become myth:
the wing bone of a swan
carved into a flute
is one of this world’s oldest instruments.
And perhaps there is
no better afterlife than this: to have travelled
your whole life through air and then,
after death, have breath passing through you.
And what better form of worship
can there be: to put your lips around the sky
until the dead sing?  Around me,

nothing but the bitter liquor of damaged grass
and bone, the ransacked jaw
wrenched from its hinge.  No singing.
No song.  In my palm and untested
against the world for which they were born,
eight small teeth, which I fling,
which I scythe in an arc over the hillside, far out
over the bracken and the furze, because, beyond
the sheer magic of their creation—budding
out from calcium, from phosphorus—no miracle

in them at all: no currency, no permission.  No door.


First published in Arts and Letters, Fall 2016