By: Cynthia Pitman
Imagine yourself seated on the ground,
surrounded by baskets,
each basket cradling a jumble of disparate items
(a feather, a knife, a memory),
items confined yet uncollected.
Within each basket is one red marble,
bright and biting in its insistent redness,
this one red marble,
rising above the disparate jumble
ascending, then suspended,
a presence to hold you and you alone
String the marbles together.
String them with your own sweet string.
Weave your web.
Surround yourself, for there is no escape.
Bow your head.
Whose hands are these that ascend,
lifted by your own sticky-sweet web?
Whose hands are these that open their palms
in silent supplication?
Whose hands are these that cup and caress
the red red redness of the mesmerizing marbles?
Whose marionette are you?
I will need a shield.
I could choose a Roman shield —
wide wings of eagles diving for their prey,
fierce thunderbolts spearing down from Jupiter on high —
to honor mighty Caesar’s erection
of Corinthian columns and colossal coliseums,
a blinding array of his brutal strength,
his decimating power made manifest,
a power I could hold close to my chest.
Or I could choose a Greek shield —
a reverse lambda, their ‘V’ of victory,
a charging bullhorn burnt on wood,
or a deep-sea lantern fish carved on rawhide —
to marvel at their sea-faring glory,
to pay homage to Poseidon,
to lay siege to Troy,
slay her heroes,
retrieve the Janus-faced Helen
and clutch her to my heart.
Or I could create my own shield.
But where should I begin?
I have a fealty to fire.
I could paint a burst of red-flower flame
from the poison oleander.
Then, as I lie burning on the funeral pyre,
clutching my flaming shield,
the thick toxic smoke of the oleander would ascend.
The shield would not protect me from my enemy,
nor my enemy from me.
Rather, it would gather us up, together,
and carry us to the Sun.
The Pain of Glass
Outside the window’s
smudged, cracked pane,
remain a few red-flushed flowers
struggling in terra cotta window boxes.
They shed their yellowed leaves
onto the dry dirt below.
Their spindly stems stand tall,
bearing the last of their shrunken blossoms —
more berries now than blossoms
to our eyes that strain to see,
an unlikely forbidden fruit
in this dying Eden.
We watch a lone chameleon
dart through the dead-leaved dirt
to escape the slaughter of the innocents
that slowly strips their stems.
The Painted Bison
The firelight flickers
on the mottled hide
of the painted bison.
In the firelight,
a hand reaches up
and touches the red-black mottle.
The cave sweats.
The bison bleeds.
Each drip tells the tale
of the hunt:
The men join together
with stone-tipped spears.
Together, they leave the cave.
Together, they track the bison,
targeting only one:
a sole muscled beast
laden with dark fur,
wet with sweat,
and burdened with black horns.
It tries to run.
They cut it off.
Everywhere are spears.
It turns one way, then another,
but everywhere are spears.
It feels the deep stabs.
It tries to escape,
but it staggers from the slew of spears
embedded in its hide.
Everywhere, everywhere are spears.
The hunters close in.
With their stone-tipped spears
they stab the bison
again and again and again.
The hunters sweat.
The bison bleeds.
Its breath leaves.
The hunters divide it into its best parts,
then drag it back to the cave.
They blacken its flesh and blood in the fire.
A hand reaches out and rips a hot, dripping piece
of the red-black mottle from the flames,
then raises the burnt beast to the hunter’s mouth.
Slit your memory.
See what spills:
flaming forward, fast,
unleashed at last.
Release this endless,
Let it go
felling false gods.
Let it flow.
Let it cover the earth.
Let it smother the guilty and the innocent alike.
Erase the faces in a rage-filled flood.