The Sea Anemone Must Wed Lightning


Clif Mason


for Joshua Avram

Long ago the stars locked the winds
into their narrow cells,
the sea into its blueprint.
I still feel bound and restless.
I walk all day in a black sleep mask,
seeking a time when happiness
will be as simple as pain.
I turn my face into a camera
and my life becomes an endless recording.
I drink the tepid tea of approval,
become irritable and chafe
at those limits.
I hear vague commands:
Remove the stones from your eyes.
Open the windows in the house of words.
Roll up the gates of the reservoir of sound.
I´m uncertain how to respond.

I see hearts cut from the bodies
of blue whales and dire wolves,
of mammoths and black rhinoceros,
and sewn forever into the nightmares of our children.
Workers resign themselves and creep
through every street in the city
toward the cemeteries of their jobs.
My material hands slowly become
unconsummated dust.
Parents put shock collars on handicapped kids.
Later they plant charred stakes in orchards
and pretend that they are apple and pear trees.

Each thing is its simple self and more.
The purple martin is a door to one of Saturn's rings.
The swan is an arrow shot from a longbow,
and the moon is pierced like a martyred saint.

This is midnight's necropolis,
and all my neighbors have found their ways
to the dark country of sleep.
Perhaps even now they walk past me
in soundless dreams,
I pursue my own uncertain way
toward the Horsehead Nebula under Orion's belt.
I pause a while in the irradiant chapel
where death marries life, pause to see
rose after rose fall through a hole in the night.
I look into the trees' high monasteries.
A thousand monks meditate,
staring out leafy, candlelit windows,
drawing, with great yearning, groundwater
up through the boles' long arteries.
In the neighborhood of a thousand dogs,
not a single bark is heard.

There is a green madness in the grass.
Its cabal of roots drinks from darkness
and plots its workers' revolution.
The street is full of gashes and clotting blood.
Time is the frieze of shadows on clouds,
the freeze of blood at betrayal.
Forgiveness, if it ever arrives,
comes hard as a club against the temple,
as a knout's iron tongues on a bare back.
Swan cries crack open night,
slit moon's pockmarked skin.
I cut my finger in the dark
and mortality enters.
It will eat my flesh as ineluctably
as sun's golden bucket
rises from night's cold well.

What can I say of this suffering
except that it is mine? 
I will carry it into autumn,
holding it over my head, as, crossing a river,
I would bundles of clothes.
One day the red horses of my blood
will gallop away, and I will fall
to the stable's stone floor.
Cold moonlight will be my winding cloth.
My love will wear a ruby necklace of grief,
red teardrops against a black dress.

Walking once more at night.
A star falls into my eye
and bleeds out in garnet winks.
I'm snagged in the moon's coiling snakes.
What do these streets have to do
with the world's angry numbers,
with the mechanisms of hurt and displacement?
We don't wish to see,
yet the television makes us see:
flower gardens reduced to dust,
people crawling on broken knees.
So do we learn the alphabets of dread,
the syntax of alarm.

A kid leans against a dumpster,
a needle nailing his arm to concrete,
litter, and illegitimate sewage.
A rosary of star fragments wreathes his neck.
Every night is a night of murder
and a thousand shouts of pain and surprise.
Blessings on those who scalpel
open the sky and let daybreak intrude—
the vitreous melt of iceprick stars;
who drain the dark with well-timed cuts
and drive out its coven of fears;
who help the poor and brain-ruined
chew the black poppy, bleak narcotic, 
of greatly belated, undreaming sleep.
Too many lie down in beds full of blood
and never wake up.

Darkness seeps into hushed air 
and the room turns blue with forsaken light.
A child's unmoving body burns sapphire
in the dark of the moon.
He has fallen from a great height
and lies half-hidden in shadows.
Where is the bird with death's indigo feathers?
I don't hear his singing, calls that pierce the brain
with arrow after arrow of grief.

Why do the stars lie down in the fields' black earth?
They are planted in the furrows like dying promises.
Night's black train plunges
through the nearest crossing,
its cars laden with bauxite and coal,
with tangerines and tulip bulbs.
Its destination is coded in my eyes' pupils.

Moonlight flings its spears
against the sea's chain mail but cannot pierce it.
I wade thigh-deep in the cold shallows,
and ghosts of the innumerable dead throng about.
Their hunger for detachment from this world
gleams like moonlight
trapped in their transparent skulls,
making them shine like jellyfishes.
They crawl crab-wise
down the beach's cracked shells
and rocks to the water's edge,
where they slither into the waves,
like serpents or eels.

Unable to swim more than a few feet,
they cluster, clutching for connection,
entwining for warmth.
They lie all about, a writhing litter of spirits,
wrinkling in the broken light.
Seeing what I'd never thought to see,
I stand stunned, stammering,
They take no notice of me in my warm sheet
of flesh and pulsing lake of blood.
They wait patiently for the tide to flow out,
and float or drag them in unceasing quest
across the last great water.

I want the song that will lift
the moon's white bone back into its black socket. 
I want the song in which a hundred horses
will gallop wild from earth's green mouth,
in which wind will whirl, weightless but sovereign,
over vast pastures of flowing grass.
I feel the hunger of lost stars.
I want the song in which water, risking all,
will dive over a falls
and wail all the way down.
I want the song that will raise the fallen child,
if only for a day,
an afternoon, an hour—
that will startle the infinite, unsoothing blue
with one unchristened drop of burning gold,
and shatter this room.

I ask the stars to make my passion
the fresh fable of my days.
The sky becomes a screen for my dreaming blood.
I fill it with red moons and black planets,
with lightning, wind, and despair.
Five gold suns become five gold coins
become five gold spots on an old woman's hand.
Light flowers, petal upon golden petal,
seizing hold of darkness.

I write an epic without a pen.
I simply point and the tale appears,
a dream written by light in impoverished air.
It begins: The sea anemone must wed lightning.
April trees must leaf out in blades.
Stones must grow fins
and leap into rivers and oceans.
And it ends: The dead speak obliquely to us,
whispering in milkweed seeds skydiving into yards;
in stars spilling, a million frog eggs,
across black space;
in rose-pink cloud haloing a bony quarter moon.
They speak in dew gems arcing grass blades down,
in fireflies heliographing desire
on a late July night.
These are the answers the dead make
to our questions.
We need not demand words.
They're here—close as fingernail to finger,
eyelash to eye, heartbeat to heart.
In the whir and blur of hummingbird wings,
in lightning strike and otter dive—
in a hundred other ways each day,
they tell us they know nothing of pain.
Do you hear?
They are chanting for us all the prayers they know.