for Nathaniel Tarn
Amid the storm, a phantom
formerly Coronado remarks:
“I was the beating heart inside
that insidious breastplate.”
Between bursts of hailstones
his companion confesses,
“I was the low-level prelate
sent to raise a clay church and
ring the altar with paintings
of the most fantastic torments.”
The rain’s fierce silver slashes
red hills above a spatter of cactus.
A fringe of lightning, unfurling
from a black cloud, tears apart
some first and final place.
Old ghosts fade out, become
songbirds at the cusp of
the mating season.
With the raw, red, pierced-with-swords
heart of the suffering Jesus floating
above our mortal palpitations,
on T shirts from a cafe named for
the crowned-in-thorns divine heart,
hadn’t we returned to the world just to taste
the most delicious sopapilla, puffs of
bread in butter and honey,
mid-afternoon, on our pilgrimage
to an abandoned sanitarium, built inside
the cone of a volcano, where the wealthy
once bathed in the pooled heat
of the first moments, now an asylum
where lunatics study the source
of their delusions, the sea of
their multiphasic crises, floating
over them, the night sky so clear,
Jupiter, Saturn, visible, the
moon so close they feel the force
of the beyond in their lives?
At night within a sky-high lava field
the recently arrived lie down in boxes of tinfoil.
We, too, feel the light of the elsewise
farthest god seep into our being,
bringing thoughts beyond all
other thoughts, the thoughts
always at the edge of the head,
never, until now, entering,
now that our heads are cut off
and dropped into the blood of
the volcano. (Nothing in the
mind not happiness.)
And so, the region has become an abstract
painting by a spiritually minded
painter depicting bursts of
light in the dark, mirrors hung
in the night sky, the frilled insignia of
some hidden order, ethereal beings,
there, in self-absorbed perfection.
(At this exact moment a glowing
wire is passing through my past,
both ends looping back into
an immense, ghostly heart,
not mine.) The body becomes
an alcove of soft colors within a shell
floating where wavy columns of light rise.
A feather free of any bird absorbs
the sunset. To the left the sky
is a greenish gold mountain.
To the right, lightning spangling
the ground more than ever in life.
How limited the living are even
in their ecstasy of union with the one,
which is not, really, for them,
much more transportive that
the morning news, in a breakfast
nook in a once radioactive blast zone,
eating waffles with ex-Luftwaffe
pilots, grand in their leather
flight jackets, courtly, gregarious,
former adversaries at peace
in their new life at Braniff, each
flying a different colored plane,
along with girls in mini skirts
and futuristic headgear. But for
us spectral revenants to reach paradise
the sky is a serpent, and we must,
in the end, be swallowed by it.
Though the words of a state park
tour guide petite, flirtatious,
in leather shorts, ring in what we
have for ears: “In the end,” she said,
“Every civilization is a bonfire.”
The whole time before our return
to the non-world it was like a beautiful
art historian was spreading a tapestry
out on the bed, a gift, just received,
long hung on the wall of an
unknown and unknowable giver,
and the swirl of the seeds, flames, vines,
the welter of colorful threads dazzled all there,
amazed that it was given, was then
shown, a vision entrusted to us
as if we were already the age to come.
A boy beside her queries: “What if,
in thousand years, what if they
find this, find us here, find us
still looking, what’ll they think
we spent our lives thinking about,
having found the image of our hearts
in the folds of this hypnotic fabric?”
I answered, if only to myself:
“That heart would not be mine.
My heart is a brackish lagoon in
Florida where dolphins and alligators
mingle as my father’s fishing boat
motors out at dawn, where he
chooses, each morning, between
saltwater and freshwater. My
mother headed off to work
as a mathematical calculator
at Cape Canaveral, long before
the first space flight. Rockets,
some on the launch pad, some
overhead, kept blowing up.
Us kids saw their flash from
atop the playground jungle gym.”
Black clouds filled the foothills
of the Sangre De Christos.
Before dying yet again
I thought I had time to walk to
the liquor store and back
in advance of lightning strikes.
But walking home rain came fast
and hard. The arroyos gushed.
I could hardly read the sign that
intimated upcoming further
posthumous forays of the soul:
“Don’t drown, turn around!”
Hailstones tore apart the bag
that held the liquor which I then
tucked close, a football to my chest.
The sky racked me with blows,
pinged metal garden Buddhas
along the way, whacked the saints,
salvoed the Virgin, beat down
the dancing Siva my landlord set
by the garage door, because he
says, destruction and restoration
must occur before all is at last over.
For a moment I thought I recalled
seeing wild dogs devour an ox.
Within moments, nothing left
but bones. Muzzles, chests, all
drenched in blood, they lapped
creek water after their feast,
before in a cave, hacking up
fresh chunks for hungry pups.
Walking back in wet dark wind
I despaired. I held my bottle
so tight to my heart it became
my heart, full of liquid fire,
distilled from a great harvest.
I felt my heart thrum amid
the gathering gleam in the grass,
and was sad to see the sunflowers
beaten down by the hail.