Swallows

“The great light cage has broken up in the air,

Freeing, I think, about a million birds.”

From “Rain Towards Morning”, By Elizabeth Bishop

 

Balanced on a mountain’s tip,

The white orb’s rays

Illuminate a cirrus cloud,

The aspiration of a Creator.

As He inhales, as He exhales,

The veil of breath grows thicker,

And a cloud-drift is riven.

It floats above the dreamy thoughts

Of men and women in the valley.

They see within the prism of its whiteness,

So many incipient shapes and incidents

To be, or not to be, as fate will have it.

 

At last, filled with premonitions,

And therefore filled with sadness,

They let the crystal ball go milky-white,

And the cloud becomes merely a cloud.

It pillows without a billow;

Soon, it has reached an ethereal height.

 

The valley is waiting–

Still green, but starting to be parched.

All around, the edges of a desert

Impinge upon it.

He who shaped the cloud is merciful.

His inspiration precipitates

A sea of swallows, wave upon wave.

They dive and rise, dive and rise.

Some of them flit into the shadows of people below.

No longer alit, nonetheless they hint

At all the spectacles of flight,

And hint at every blessing from above.

 

Noon becomes eclipsed–

Beneath the hovering cloud,

There is an ink that is a residue of dreams.

Mist begins its fall

Into that penetrating rain which binds again

The crumbling parchments of earth.

 

The valley echoes with a Deity’s thunder.

In a canyon, men labor on a ledge.

Their helmets are rigged with a white,

Penetrating light.  Fixed above the forehead,

It is caged behind bars.

Dispassionately, relentlessly,

With drills, with picks, and with chisels,

They strip away the striated rock.

Brushing aside the detritus, specialists

Resurrect a fossil’s bones–the digits of its wings,

The spiny hooks, the claws.  This specimen,

Destined for the shrine of a museum to be.

 

Coda

 

We are encircled by arches.

They pool a sheltering shade.

Cast upon the chips of stone,

I am the shadow of a swallow

No longer alit,

A courtier in your courtyard.

Sockets in the horned steer’s skull

Stare upwards into an aridity.

The bone beseeches rain.

Behind a veil of steel mesh,

You lock the screen.  Then, safely caged,

You shut the door.

 

July, August, 2009

 


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