In Bossche’s The Martyrdom of Saints Crispin
and Crispinian, we’re tied to a tree and worked
with our own tools. They don’t know how a body
works, but have heard people talk about pain.
It hasn’t been autumn for a while.
The trees are empty. The power lines hum.
Others mill about, wait for something to happen.
My thin, steel blade’s good edge begins
where, in the sketch of an archangel I drew once
for the American vice consul at that river
party in Kraków, the wings ought take root.
But they won’t. We did someone else’s work
days and our own nights. The grip of his tools,
how the wood has taken his oils up. My brother and I
agree on little save the Word we hear in things.
Save our love for the cambium layer of
this yellow birch we’re bound to, that they open
our skin against, living layer after living layer.
There’s a notebook I keep where I try to divine
what’s song, what’s everything else. I almost had it.
The frozen pond behind everything, the awkward
mountain ledge looking down on that much world
trapped inside. Instead of preaching some gospel,
we rent Solaris and lie on his bed drinking Old
Fashioneds, his second wife out of town.
We watch the reeds bend in the mind.
This is this world, we say across the sea between us.
Supposed to be some other world inside this one.
The sea everything I can’t say to myself:
the word for the skin between the wings,
the right tool to open such a space
to the autumn air. Remembering.
Remembering to fall asleep before too much
plot breaks in. And waking to the blue
screen projected on the wall where this
painting has been taken down—our knives
are asking questions I can’t answer. Tell me what
you want so I can tell you different. The frozen
pond and yellow birch are asking this, not me.
I would never ask that much of you. I’d never dare.
Leave me in the furrows between the lands.
Leave the sky to quern, leave the millstones
about my neck. I have things I want to say to
my drowned version. To the yellow birch
I’ve imagined. The dogs’ curiosity. Whatever language
I thought I had lies just beneath the surface and can’t
be opened this easily. The notebook with whatever
wasn’t song is what everyone wants—the winter weeds
quake and believe themselves the morning stars,
ambitious and failing. The powerline hum,
the blue screen deny ever being a song.
I taught it, my branches. If the canals freeze
it’s because of me. I am nothing you need worry over.
I’ll always be here, then I won’t be.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.