Atop a pile of basement boxes
the black fur drapes in repose
as its jaws widen with ivory canines
and a ramp of pink tongue leading nowhere—
cold eyes gaze across the stiff licorice
snout of a precious teddy.
The hunter won’t recall this kill—
in a nursing home he lies cut
off from those big woods
as his unflinching hands
wring themselves of memory.
In the basement beneath the hi-fi cabinet
two icons lean against crates of compact discs.
Crafted by my daughter, her choice of fake gems—
rubies, eight-pointed stars, swelling hearts—
bejewel the plaqueboards of Jesus and Mary.
He glistens in antiseptic resignation,
flexing his abs against the staples.
Farther off, where stray blocks
and jigsaw pieces conscript with dust,
drapes a yellowing landscape scroll I bought
in Chinatown when young, long stashed
down here out of the way—once more I
eye the cartooned gentleman,
hair bobbed, robes plaited, legs folded,
dwarfed by the waterfall cut from swollen fists
of rock which reach out into a vast verticality,
free from cities, free from people—
though his inclusion in the scene only proves
how often, through the years, I had hoped
to switch my place with his.
Out in our yard squirrels have freed
the tarp covering the old wood pile
browning in the succession of seasons;
its lichened ribs betray the youth
with which it was stacked—
we were back then more eager to burn—
you built as I gibed encouragement
though I have seen such piles fade before.
When I was a boy I found at the edge
of a field firewood sprouting monstrously
amongst the giant legs of the forest,
catching ribbons of sky as it
sunk back into the substrate.
I lay down where the leaves were driest
and felt as if at the base of the sea.
In the garden of heaven once grew
every shade of tulip and every form of lotus,
every type of dahlia that now has no name.
Before all names, Satan wandered
in this jungle searching and thinking,
aware only at the edge of sleep
that his mind was not his own.
To him appeared images
of sickness, pain, and pestilence;
of fratricide, of fire underground—
before the creation of the earth
when the soul’s eternal breath
passed over unending ocean,
Satan meditated, eye within eye
for a hundred thousand years
dreaming of Woman, of her every hair,
and of Man, and his every inch.
Sailing after Yeats to Byzantium, I discover him listening to the masons sing while they build a church. Christ is new, the Eastern teachings of the body are not yet mysteries, they are as real as wine or sex or tears. Jesus is spoken of as a friend, like a breeze crossing the foundations. Across the street men copulate in the baths and emerge to continuation of the craftsmen’s song. Before dusk Yeats walks with Iseult toward the shore and they are in love. He knows I am watching. He knows I cannot believe what I am feeling, that we have met before, in the neighbor’s garden when I was very young.
Max Roland Ekstrom holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. His poetry appears in such journals as The Hollins Critic, Hubbub and The Comstock Review, and is anthologized in Except for Love: New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall. Max lives in Vermont with his wife and three children.