Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I open with a simple breathing spell: floating an inlet . . . dawn . . . the groaner sighs, falling . . . rising, hear slow wingbeats . . . a gull crossing over, and over . . . rising on updrafts, a tattered cloud . . . a grain of salt air . . . I lick the salt of my lips and begin
the shoulder stand, hanging feet overhead till they drain white, like water-lotus roots strung up to dry. Coming down, I evolve through a bestiary of postures: belly-up fish, frog, cobra swelling to strike, cow-head and lion; I hover through locust and crow, stretch my neck to a swan’s, my legs to a peacock’s tail.
Then I relive the inventions of men: the bridge, the wheel, the plow, the shooting bow, each pose tense with images of men that I keep washing with blood . . . A drop of sweat rolls down my nose, a tear from the third eye: it has seen enough. I salute the sun and gratefully sink into the corpse, aware that the world, too, is an exercise that ends in prostration. A falling tide tugs the body back through the inlet . . .
When my lover returns she’ll find a petal drifting on the water that no one drinks.
I started with a chunk of fencepost cedar, naked gray from the deaths of recent years. Following the grain I whittled past the ax-handle and broom-handle, past the cane, the flute, the spoons and clothes-pins; I heaped the shavings — curled like letters of a forgotten language — and ignited them. Their flames released many ghosts: an ax tolled through trees until the forest fell; a woman swept her house, inviting the angels in; an old man shook his cane at the rising sun; a girl played a flute to the meadow — it opened, and she leaped in.
I whittled deep through the fragrant heart: its fire told me I should whittle a cedar berry, and from that berry whittle a seed, and hide the seed in an empty hope chest: and bless the child who would look in that emptiness and sing “A seed, a seed,” recognizing the life work of his father.
Robert Hill Long