The name of the bow is life, but its work is death.
How in Heraclitus
ideas of things, quality, and event
the perceiver/perceived, too,
not yet parsed, not yet,
and then the great Forgetting,
breath and breather, love and beloved,
world and God-in-the-world.
But then it comes upon us: that brightness,
that bright tension in animals, for instance,
that focus, that compass
of the mammalian mind finding
its own true North,
saintly in its dark-eyed,
A kind of calling, a via negativa,
a surrender, still and silent, to the heart’s desire.
So in the cathedral of the world
we hold communion,
the bread of language
placed delicately upon our tongues
as we breathe the bitter air,
drinking the wine of reason
and pressing to our breasts the old dream of Being.
And one without a name
Lay clean and naked there, and gave commandments.
—Rilke, “Washing the Corpse” (trans. Jarrell)
Dust storm, we thought, a brown swarm
plugging the lungs, or a locust-cloud,
but this was a collapse, a slow sinking
to deeper brown, and deeper still, like the sky
seen from inside a well as we are lowered down,
and the air twisting and tearing at itself.
But it was done. And the body hung there
like a butchered thing, naked and alone
in a sudden hush among the ravaged air.
The ankles first—slender, blood-caked,
pale in the sullen dark, legs broken
below the knees, blue bruises smoldering
to black. And the spikes. We tugged iron
from human flesh that dangled like limbs
not fully hacked from trees, nudged
the cross beam from side to side until
the sign that mocked him broke loose.
It took all three of us. We shouldered the body
to the ground, yanked nails from wrists
more delicate, it seemed, than a young girl’s
but now swollen, gnarled, black as burnt twigs.
The body, so heavy for such a small man,
was a knot of muscle, a batch of cuts
and scratches from the scourging, and down
the right side a clotted line of blood,
the sour posca clogging his ragged beard,
the eyes exploded to a stare that shot
through all of us and still speaks in my dreams:
I know who you are.
So, we began to wash
the body, wrenching the arms, now stiff
and twisted, to his sides, unbending
the ruined legs and sponging off the dirt
of the city, sweat, urine, shit—all the body
gives—from the body, laying it out straight
on a sheet of linen rank with perfumes
so that we could cradle it, haul it
to the tomb. The wind shouted.
The foul air thickened. I reached over
to close the eyes. I know who you are.
Visit B.H. Fairchild as Image Artist of the Month for October '03