EXPLORER

 

In his chest a red ship skids and thuds.

He arrives with a scrape of wood

at the new and unintended vision.

Error lifts the bright hairs on his skin.

His eye veers, here among the green

dimensions. His wish for a wick of road.

There must be a forward somewhere

in the tall, wet, unspent curves of rock.

His map makes a noise like wings,

a bird-high wind of law and prayer: A hope

that the size of the accident just might

excite the queen as much as being right.

She owns this wilderness of lights now,

he says as he bows toward God or goodness:

Bellowing suns without a fixed location

and a heat appreciated best from far away.

 

He will harden here among the rocks,

the fire-colored veins. Look up and shake a gravel

of bright stars over his story. Scar with his tools

whatever is near and gleaming and unsafe.

 

OEDIPUS

 

Everything I ran from now twists open like a flower

in an ordinary place that suddenly bares

its steepness, the blank odor in which it hid.

The road was silent in its odd, curved lines

but it was fierce and jointed like a tiger.

It bore its glowing marks with no intent.

 

A mark I too wore innocently, like a skin

of stars, its pattern invisible to me

but strange and beautiful to others.

I ran in fear and light

with a turning, tumbling eye.

The distance changed, and the perspective.

I entered the cold blue canyon,

the different distance of the watchers

for whom the lesson and the loss sing.

Far from me, their fingers

will find a melody among black keys,

a sun in the forest of burning gods.

 

EASTER ISLAND HEADS

 

What was it like to wait without rain

or leaf among the silent truths?

To stand listing in the winds’ chalks

the many smallnesses of dust?

Black granite gods, tall and taller

in the light as final as a mountain:

The powder of vision is on you, dry waves

of colors, the lost whirling of the builders.

Is it good to remember all the reds and blues

that fasten for a moment like the tides?

To breathe the light like an animal

beautiful in your sorrow and your duration?

 

DEATH CARD

 

You cannot see him in the world.

Look instead for those who slow around him:

His tap of blue-white poison

loosening the body’s inks.

Look at his picture thick with edge:

hood, blade, blackness. They say it means change.

The dark in it comes of the confusion,

the cries and falling around the change.

The change itself is just a moment,

the cut abstract and painless, a shadow.

It is powder, a soft fluttering.

It curves in air, a flare of moth.

See how he holds the hearts that come,

all of them laboring, bumping like camels.

The surprised, who arrive bad-tempered, spitting,

speaking only the language of heat and burdens.

So many: misshapen, beautiful, vicious.

Most come slow to the transformation,

touching both the shadow and the earth.

He widens just a little as he waits.

 

Patricia Nelson has worked with the “Activist” group of poets in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her book, Out of the Underworld, is due out this year from Poetic Matrix Press.

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