I lunge headfirst through a tight-necked passage
into a chamber fraught with apparitions.
Zero eyes peer through death masks; tainted whispers
drift above canopic jars and toppled busts.
Through iron palings, ants scout a newly mounded grave;
a clown drips tears of lead in the funhouse mirror.
Black madonna stares from beneath a crown of tarnished stars
while a busybody crone flourishes her stringy feather duster
over shelves of mildewed trophies. Stopping to switch
a goat's head with a jester's, she turns to freeze me,
this I know. There's no escaping her game this time.
Life surges through these forms and fates
till our cell walls quietly erode
and the molecules spin free, undeterred
and unslowed by their miscellaneous purposes—
till the end when the bobbling continents subduct
beneath Earth's rupturing crust jamming to the core
our household goods, our legacies of toxic waste,
microchip memorabilia, any and all traces
of kith and kinship, hope and fear, guilt and innocence—
with all the toenails, eyeballs, pituitaries
that then remain of suffering humanity when
frantic rats and cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes
swirl and eddy with the bones of the buffalo,
unbedded trilobites and saurian fossils—
all rushing back into glittering quarks or such
stuff we consign to the grave and to gravity.
Is this the appointed hour to aerate now
my severed parts and own decomposing flesh?
These very hands in front of my face horrify and
appall me—this toppling planet, El Niño, killer bees,
the gape of the ozone blanket, my own domestic
habits and injustices my lifestyle perpetuates.
The lead-faced clown saws into my chest,
snatches and hurls a babe cord dangling
eastward over the Appalachians, the Carolina
piedmont untoward the Atlantic, untoward
the great eastern sun, unto morning, as blood
drops and splatters estuarially unto the placental
rivers of the North American continent.
No one can see this child; no one follows
its passage; this fragmentary streak
among the careening galaxies
touches no one. But that hobbling crone
must from each new fallen soul extrude
a shiny bit of obsidian to enshrine
in her cosmic crypt, as she cackles
At the lip of a cave, arms twitching
over its brow, the dazzled infant writhes
shielding its face from a cloud of bats.
Tahosa Valley, Colorado