in the secret places of the stairs:
Fingertips, like lighted candles,
reaching out, from the dark
(O my dove, thou art
in the secret places of the stairs)
reaching out from the clefts of the rock,
from the secret places of the stairs;
reaching out, going out, going dark
in the secret places of the stairs.
O daughters of Jerusalem,
I am black but comely,
like a tent at midnight
with a lion crouching at its door,
sniffing at its door,
under a full moon in an empty sky
on a black night of a blacker god
who whispers secrets to the lost men
giggling in the secret places of the stairs –
the congregation of the lost men, the broken men,
the men sans hair, sans teeth, sans everything.
I cannot bear to keep them anymore,
these secrets of the secret places of the stairs,
nor dare I speak them
even though you question me incessantly,
“Speak! Why do you never speak?”
I never speak because I lost my tongue
where the dead men left their bones
and the living pick at them.
I dare not speak
except to those who cannot hear,
who have no ears to hear,
but hide in fear
among the secret places of the stairs,
squatting in the dust
and muttering their prayers
to a black god in a blacker sky
surrounding a dead moon
on a still night
in the secret places of the stairs.
crows the cock.
caws the rook.
The one-eyed man
in seven-league boots
and four-and-twenty maidens
in four-and-twenty rows
wiggles his fingers
and nibbles their toes.
at my housey.
Of gingerbread said
the one-eyed man;
try and catch me, if you can.
* * * *
Time at the speed of light stands still.
So, hurry up please, it’s time.
Hurry up at the speed of light,
at the speed of light, hurry
up the hill to the broken crown,
up the hill where they all fall down,
up the hill where the fathers say,
“Come what may!
God help me!”
“O lost, and by the wind grieved, Ghost, come back again.” Thomas Wolfe
they all fall down;
are falling down
with the sound of falling leaves
they fall, silent, to the ground.
And all are falling;
this hand, too, it falls:
it falls upon the page.
upon the word.
upon the stone.
upon the leaf.
upon the door.
and having fallen,
falls no more.
King Wu Wen presented me
with a hundred tortoises.
I fed the flesh to a hundred beggars,
and the shells I used for divination —
cast them into fire and read the cracks
the fire made along their backs.
Nothing furthers, they said. Also,
Every ending is a new beginning.
“Such nonsense!” I spat,
and beheaded the cat.
But what can one expect from empty tortoise shells?
Or old wise men like King Wu Wen?
Under the surface,
under the slick of oil
spreading over the slick
under the tock
of the me. me. me.
ticks the I. I. I.
that watches, watches, watches
as we die, die, die.
Waits and watches, watches and waits —
this unseen, unwatched, watching Seer.
And we who have no house,
no house at all
(nor do we build one
on this chilly Tuesday
when Winter, crouching on its haunches,
stalks the Fall)
we, too, wait and watch,
watch and wait;
paint our lips with blood,
our eyes with death,
pucker up and hold our breath
in hot anticipation.
But, lacking inspiration,
mistake the mustard seed
between our teeth
for a bit of food
and spit it out lest we offend.
Here, in the Valley of Bones,
where the scorpion mocks the turtle
as the turtle dies
and curses the scorpion
for its lies;
where dead men return,
and stones return,
and children’s teeth return;
here, at Elephant’s End,
we play cat’s cradle in the dirt,
where a little dog laughs
to see such sport,
and the wayward dish
Three went into the garden dark
where secrets are kept for keeping;
one returned and one went mad,
and one remains there, sleeping.
But who is the fourth who walks through flames
around the garden wall,
weaving forbidden holy names
into the fringes of his shawl?
In the beginning was the word,
and by the word all things created;
yet it is said (and I have heard)
that by the word shall the word
itself be abrogated.
So ’round and ’round the garden wall
walks the one who walks in flames,
listening for the third to call,
from inside that garden wall,
when he hears the waiting word
spoken from among his names.