Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Out there, the old man says, 

brushing the morning condensation off the inside of the glass,

the desert swallows whole rivers.
I’ve seen it. Long ago. Before.

A river came down from the Mountain,

roaring like the Source of Life itself.
And I thought, if I followed, it might lead me
to a port on some great salt sea,
like the ones in all the stories.

But it didn’t.
The sun, the wind,
and the simple incongruities of scale had their way.
Until in the end, it was just a damp place in the sand,
and then nothing.

I would like to have seen that, I say.
But really I mean
I wish I could hear it.
What would water have to do to roar
rather than burble or trickle or drip?

It’s better this way, he says.
We had to seal up.
Before the Dome, our little spring
didn’t amount to much on the desert's scale.
Barely a puddle most of the year.
If you timed your migration wrong you might miss it.
But now …
He waved his arm to take in the gardens and the trees
and the our healthy little village.
… now there’s a little paradise in here.

Do you think Paradise is really like this? I ask.
With a spring and gardens and a dome?

What else could it be?
It’s a place of goodness,
and what good survives without protection?
Without a dome over Heaven,
Hell would leech all its life out
until God Himself was just a damp place in the sand.

The Ancients, I say, for I like to study such things,
the Ancients pictured God much bigger than that.
Bigger than the desert, bigger than the whole world.

The Ancients, he says, and spits on the black dirt beneath our feet,
the thin topsoil it took decades to coax and conjure into existence.
They made that desert, in their infinite fucking wisdom.
If they’ve got a cock in this fight
I’ll bet on the other one.
We had to seal it up.

Occasionally, I recall as I look towards the horizon,
we still see travelers out there.
They come towards us as if we were a mirage,
as if there were still an open oasis here.
I saw one close up once.
He was pounding on the glass
like it was a door I could open.
He licked the glass as if it were porous
and some of the inside moisture might leak through.

He died there.
I tried to tell him to move on,
that I lacked the power to let him in,
that he needed to look elsewhere.
But either he didn’t speak our language
or he just didn’t want to believe me.

You shouldn’t think about him, the old man says.
He’s scary that way, hearing my thoughts.
People out there, they don’t concern us.
We’re separate now.
And even if you could have let him in,
where would it stop?

He’d want to rescue a wife or a child.
They’d get a message to their cousins,
and then word would get out that all the water is in here.
It isn’t, but they’d say that.
And as long as we weren’t dead,
we’d have more than them
and feel like we had to let them in.
But every day we’d have a little less more,
until eventually we’d be dead too.
You can’t start something like that,
if you don’t know where it will end.

I know he’s right.
But sometimes, sometimes,
sometimes the wishing builds up in me
until I think I might burst.
It wells up until it wants to roar down the mountains like a great river.
But what then?
I know there’s no sea to run to.

In here, in here we look after each other.
We’d never just watch each other die.
Paradise is a place of love.
But how long could such soft feelings survive
in the harshness out there?
How long before the roaring river of my compassion
became a damp place in the endless sand
and then nothing?

Do you still think about painting over the panels? he asks.
Just the lower ones, I say.
The ones about as high as my head.
It’s fine to look out and up.
I like it, most of the time.
What about the birds? he asks.

I’d forgotten about them.
It was three years ago they came.
A whole flock. Migrators.
Our little puddle, we figure,
must have been a stopover
on the route of some ancestor.
(Going where? I wonder.)

They sat up high on the Dome.
Feeling what, I can’t imagine.
Anger? anticipation? confusion? betrayal? hope?
Maybe they were just too tired to go on.
It took forever for the wind to push their bodies off.
And months more before I got back in the habit of looking up.

I’m glad you didn’t start, the old man says.
Don’t start things, if you don’t know where they’ll end.