I heard the dead whine like a bobcat in the pasture field.
Like a baby crouching in the grass near the springhouse
when the harvest weighs heavy on the stalk
and dew soaks your shoes.
Grandfather strode like an initiate of an earth goddess
down the country road with a wet-born calf in his arms.
Grandmother cut dawn's darkness with her flashlight
The air charged with magic and primordial calm.
The valley alive with mystery time alone can breed.
Binding together wheat stalk and hay bale
and mocking the hours like a catbird on the limb.
The dead disappear and are seen no more.
Their work rusts in the yard and their gardens decay.
Their eyes do not pierce the neon lights from the other side.
Their statues sweat no blood.
What they said is lost (no less what it meant).
A black car drove up and took them off.
They walked the trail of tears and bore the pain.
They died without name and address.
Some loved. Others hated and despised.
(Better dead and not remembered again)
No one to find them in their city lost to time.
The unspeakable crimes unsaid and unavenged.
There are no sacred words to open death's doors.
The dead seek rest and remembrance
on the tongues and in the souls
of the sick and diseased and hound their dreams.
Along the fragile mud banks
wailing boy and pouting girl
follow bloody spoor and echoing, hungry cry
from sheepfold to grave,
where the young god lies entombed.
Rice bowls are empty in temple gardens
as the vulture soars in ritual helix down the sky.
In drought time at the festival of light,
king and bride join in sanctuary bed.
The people huddle at the dry river banks
and pray for flood tide, life-quest and rebirth.
In the land between two rivers,
death gives birth to wisdom.
The dead embark from valley steps
to the land of the sun,
and the true measure of life
is not how many men you killed or slaves
to serve you in the next world
but whether you hurt anyone or not.
The stations of the modern underworld bear sounds
like Treblinka, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen.
The hieroglyphics of the book of our dead,
starkly naked, brutal depicting our nothingness.
The animal unveiled beneath pince-nez.
The angel slashed, burned, gouged, gassed, and shot.
A thin hand raises a cigarette to parched lips.
Toothless mouths gum green bread from the pit pigs swill in.
Lurid pictures obscene in their cruelty,
no mystery. The human husk ripped open without shame.
Spread-eagled legs bent back. Throat crushed.
The raped soul shot nude for postcards
the possessed will buy.
In my prayer to compassion's God,
to what high place should I climb
for those who died forgotten by us?
The past just a trick of words and memory.
Cut wounds deep in flesh.
Bury the tokens under moss and roots,
and ask forgiveness for not being there
in the terror that should be shared.
Where the walls are scrubbed clean
and bone shoveled into the common urn,
light a candle for the dead
where they watch from crumbling photographs.
And do not forget the winter night
that splintered like crystal on the streets
when the radio called them into the open maw
of factory gate and shower and bitter flame.
Time cannot fill the vacuum they left.
The dead need remembrance in rites
that strip bare the soul and throw it
to the ground in tongues they speak to us.
A language that solves all riddles and crimes.
That unmasks the sham and lie of the daily routine,
and leads truth seekers to open the graves
that schoolbooks do not write about.
For those who drank at the pit's lip
and sank into mass graves,
whose naked bodies the pictures show,
flesh melting into flesh in a dirt hole.
I ask to be like those who came out of it
and see now beyond death's frontiers.
Who saw new life root in ruins.
Whose breath once choked on hope.
Who put a knife to the camp guard's throat
but let him go when wrath
and suffering became a vision of dignity
uninvoked by gore on human hands.
And who, when ecstatic cry fills the room,
open the door at night to the tomb
and bring bright linen shrouds
to those who died cold, unclothed, and unjustly.
(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Notes for a Book of the Dead