The Priests in the Trees

The priests in the trees
have changed their robes,
their yellow
substantiating earth,

to the brutal temple
of the woods have
brought back gold,
lit the branches’ tips.

In wind the sticks
have conclave
debating the
splintered month,

at last issue
a crown jeweled
with cardinals
whose gold melts

through the rusting dark.
The priests of
burningbush
render God’s voice

in blood colors,
shear down the veil
that parses hung lofty
from earth-bound,

to the undone temples
of a copse have brought
back music,
frozen the cardinal’s heart.

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Sign and Signified

Later he would reveal that the campaign
had been largely farce.
It had been a pleasure to pretend
that the squares routed near A—–
and outside B—- during numerous engagements
had not been ordered to disperse
after briefly engaging or receiving minor casualties.

Even the families of the dead eventually learned
that there had been no war
other than the elaborate sham—
the blue and gold brocades, the signs and standards
maneuvers, counter marches, plumes, parades—
even the sealing wax was not sealing wax,
which, like the congealed blood on a surgeon’s frock,
both legitimated and defied death,
Contrived dying and denied dying
while authorizing both and permitting neither.

No, there were no acts of war;
No blood-soaked missives came or went
or appeared sudden and sharp to splash the ranks.

But who could tell the difference?
In the no man’s land between what happened
and what was forbidden to have been.
It was whims and children’s errands
lived and executed upon satin charts for pleasure.
They were scarlet intestines and black bile
Chained and choking in the mangled smut of battle;
Horses and men screaming in a narrow defile.
But whose horses? What men? And which were which?

Later, the emperor,
addressing the battalions
seeing the wounds it had sustained
knowing which were illusion
reminded us it was a sham campaign—
Refusing the weight with pithy conclusion—
“no glory lose, no glory gain.”

Unheroic Simile

It was like love, the bite of that splinter,
when the pick’s handle snaked across
my palm driving in an inch of hickory.

There wasn’t much to do. The wet ditch was still
half dug we needed to lay the piping through.
I put my wound against the wood and heaved again.

Early Pug

She says I picked you up but the second day you
You had lost one of your fingers in a cutting board accident
After that I dreamed about gold thimbles for a week

 Its what started. Its how that started.

 May uncle Katherine bless our endeavor sweetest child
Because you are not without verve or shotguns
Which qualities he possessed in full measure, as a man will.

 Roger was an alchemist. He made his pages into smoke
He made the smoke gold errant knights
He cut down uncle Katherine. He left a message on the thorn
Of a white rose bush:

 Embalm that old bastard in the juice of the pale petals of this rose bush
Because, let us face it…

 The rest of that note is too obscure for the telling. Johnson, another flagon.
Pendragons  cooking on the ballpoint spits of the hall fires.
I had a pug and she says I’ll pick you up for the pug’s company
A woman’s way, by the mass. Marry, a woman’s way.

 We took to the field in our squadrons
I cannot smell wet earth without seeing blood
In the mind of my eyes and nose. hands shake,
Drenched, drenching.  The anticipation of revels is uncle Jackson
With his face in the crystals. Draw, my thought
Draw, be bloody or be nothing worth. Draw, pendragons.
Draw, fast hands, six shooters.

 How in an hour cousin Vicky laid waste thirty horse
How James strung their guts on his fretboard,
Plagues, I whispered in the moonlight, plagues
When the rain falls, plagues, in the hayloft,
In the black Mercedes, plagues. 

And then I cut my finger off with a knife I bought at Target.
Is that justice, Ferdinand. Is that justice, I ask her.
She says: where is your pug? Where is your little pug? 

Cardinal Wolsey Speaks About Imagining

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“Another man would have trouble imagining it, but he has no trouble. The red of a carpet’s ground, the flush of the robin’s breast or the chaffinch, the red of a wax seal or the heart of the rose: implanted in his landscape, cered in his inner eye, and caught in the glint of a ruby, in the color of blood, the cardinal is alive and speaking. Look at my face: I am not afraid of any man alive.”

– Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall