[from Joshua Poteat's Ornithologies, Anhinga, 2006]
The Angels Continue Turning the Wheels of the Universe Despite Their Ugly Souls
(Malvern Hill Battleground)
— after Alice Aycock
There is truth in the phrase, the dead are at ease under the fields.
Autumn is what seizes it. A field of dried cotton stalks
have a grace in the wind only the dead can love,
and so, belief comes simple, rendering not a season
but stalk against stalk,
poor cousin-song of crickets,
poor furrow-in-the-gut, little nothing-at-all.
At least it will snow soon, goes the cotton's rattled melody,
and this field beyond the city, flooded by night,
turns blue in the first frost as the ghosts of past crops
bridle upon it.
I give the field ghosts, and the wind eggs them on —
corn and sweet potato, tobacco and bean —
hovering the mule-plough of two hundred years.
So much for truth.
It's the least I can do since I cannot for the life of me
think of anything but the thin curtains of a hospital room
and an X-ray of my crooked spine pinned to a wall of light,
the sweet milk of vertebrae, my own skull
frowning back at me, such a cold cup of jaw,
so white I could have easily drunk myself.
What a desire, to take one's self in, to unravel
the body's red yarn shapes and deceive the plague
of boundless hunger, to imagine this cotton field as bone
ready for the gin, rib and wrist and collar,
all tenderhearted stars,
inexact, held up to the light of no moon, no cloud.
This is me scattered in the furrows, I thought.
This is me, marrowless and fluff, grub-eaten.
I don't believe in much. Not the descent and re-ascent
of the soul . . . the palace of the kingdom of the dead . . .
So much for desire.
I have seen those X-rays of Velasquez, the hidden layers
illuminated to reveal six ghost-versions of hands along the rim
of an egg bowl, six different plates of fish and garlic,
a dwarf's blind face formed into the severed head of a pig,
then back to a dwarf, leaving the pig's wondrous eyes.
A bird later becomes a peach in the mouth of a jug,
and this is how I feel about the world at the moment.
Troppo vero, said Pope Innocent in a letter
to Velasquez of his portraits. Too faithful.
Representation is all we are in the end, I guess, and then some.
Charred ivory: muller stone: horse-hair:
white lead: madder: massicot.
This is me.
It is almost winter, here in the leftover cotton
that once held the thousand luminous angels of desire
as they curled inward towards a truth
unlike any flame they had seen.
This must be how the soldiers slept,
with the night all around them
and their bodies knowing where it was.
And this must be how the deer moved
over the fields long after the battle, drinking frost
from the eyes of the dead with their small pink tongues.
Oh dwarf, oh king, oh skeleton of mine,
will I ever feel your wings between my hands again?