* * *
Thistle Dump Armistice
I waited in Middlesex, ordered a Guinness at the Inn. Sea of crisis, south serpent. Lake of Perseverance, Lake of Death. I don’t know how the moon entered this, but a thousand sea’s spilled as litany to quench my thirst. Mare Parvum, east of Inghirami, Incognitum, Novum. I study the map, my breath shrunk into smallish sip. You point to the map’s torn edge just under the lamp. Above the mapping you stood naming the plateaus, the ravines, the wasted arrows.
I would follow you there if I could. The future surrendered into one soundless flush. The hum of wires placates the creaking wheels of a passing truck.
After I left the valley of Maria, after the eighth battle, I arrived at the west marsh, where the November snow fades the maple leaves, and a brick church abandons the cemetery’s thistles. In High Wood at Longueval the memorial trees steady a square paddock.
Oak’s driftwood branches flood the grass and their fossilized burls like coral, strangle the gnarled tree trunks. You came to the commons, the perfect square, a grid where the brushfinch flatten in the rye. Our providence began in dream. Nowhere in the district. No horizontal. No longitude. No radiant rays. Only copper crusts—crowns pressed to mildew uniforms lay across the furrows. The guardian birds would not return. No detailed sightings, no mistlethrush, nor coltsfoot, no cuckoo, no house martin; no reports of continental migration. No officer to mourn the detachment of shell-torn wings. No singing in the valley reported. Each ghost warbling a cast of exodus. Somewhere, somewhere in the silence you march back through the pasture. Your mud brown boots flatten stitchwart stars, and up the verge, a glint—a wet harvest. The houses there did not exist. The earth recedes. To know time is to observe this season. A nearness broken into a second waking.
The oiled clouds settled as a windbreak over afternoon paddocks, a cadmium bronze glows between woolly thistle and knapweed. Now, their bodies ‘untroubled ash slips like spotted, pancreatic leaves beneath the ground. The seventh gate opens into the fallow beyond the gentians and wild anemones. I enter a star’s interior. A saffron-metal reflection burns my eyes, and in physical remembrance, the chiffchaff’s pip pip ruffles the oldest sun, as a pressure beneath my skin. The trees went on talking. I moved through twilight’s burial room. Where did they touch you?
It was feminine death, a spiral down my arm. The paratroopers landed in the she-oaks as I lay the letter on the table, as I lay him. I decided to go home. To leave without having. I was not meant for the small things, not meant for you who have gone now into the sheen. The imperial mass, the empire now lays a gallery upon this ridge.
The arrival now of day birds in rhythmic streaks. Day birds clustered as a woodland froth.
They were slight namings, a reflection over the verge, a glint among the rye grass. You were stubborn in your silence.
There is a distant falling, a portrait of your face. We held a separate glance over our shame.
To describe what happened we began with the worst experience. An entry point into the affair.
Now the blank earth lays in paragraphs. I write through occlusions, acidic spills, cicada’s pulse in my tongue. I am caught in the grass where agapanthus coppers in the sun. Awake in opposite hues.
Cargo ships and steam rises & sways backward across the sea.
I see you stand in the shapely snow which lays over the gulch in a topography of archipelagos and temporary dunes. You’re intimate with the reversals of light as the dusk descends. The afterlife gleams. Is this translation or song. I’ve come as witness into the unknown beyond whiteness, unassured. There was an hour we stood in the doorway. As if at home in a language of a deeplight. We glimpse between the trees to see our shadows. We step through air. A whereabouts, a voluptuary pattern in language guides me. A strange narrator rests between us and the estuary sustains what is written. I consider my words luck. Then disagree.
You told me: The big dogs never gave us the basic skills. Another digger taught me everything I learned.When they ask you for something, make yourself really dumb—
Heat lowered through my sacrum. This was no theory. No trick of my mind to cease. Diamond patterns in the carpet tunnelled my pass-out point, a breath slowed in arrival to lift me away from his grip.
Did you not fell?
O yes, that good habit designed by the upper rank’s training, no but I couldn’t run. A mess of bees, a bed of asps, what snake was I to trade—my underpin, his armlock.
Years later the intelligencia told me who he was as if to explain the why.
They found him in the barn, rope hung from his left ankle, a broadaxe spliced his face. I never gave my location. Calcite swung in the rope’s shadow as I read the many omens: telluric currents, the soil broken in clamshell, a robin’s terracotta plume. A radiance in their voices when they told me his skull silvered and shook from the scalping, a glow of coins scattered like ice over the lake beneath his head.
* * *
Maureen Alsop, PhD, is the author of Pyre (forthcoming with What Books Press), Mirror Inside Coffin; Later, Knives & Trees; Mantic, Apparition Wren (also a Spanish edition, Reyezuelo Aparición, translated by Mario Domínguez Parra); and chapbooks including Luminal Equation, the dream and the dream you spoke, 12 Greatest Hits, Nightingale Habit, and Origin of Stone). She is the winner of the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award through the Hawaii Council for the Humanities, Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry, and The Bitter Oleander’s Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. Her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes on several occasions. Poems, book reviews, essays, and visual poetics have appeared in Memorious, The Laurel Review, Blackbird, DIAGRAM, The Kenyoun Review, AGNI, Verse Daily, Rain Taxi, Mantis, Anomaly, Your Impossible Voice, The Continental Review, and Drunken Boat, Tupelo Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Arts. The Riverside Art Museum and Umbrella Studio have been venues for her work. Translations of La Pasajera /The Passenger by Juana de Ibarbourou (Uruguay, 1892-1979) and poetry of Mario Domínguez Parra have appeared in Box Car Review and Poetry Salzburg Review. She teaches online with the Poetry Barn. She is a Book Review Editor and Associate Poetry Editor at Poemeleion, holds an MFA from Vermont College.
featured photo by Maureen Alsop