by by David Thurston Goff

illustration by by Drew Foster

They told him that the sun would rise at seven in the mountains,
That coral rhododendrons in the slough would guide his way.
They told him he should wet and wear a sponge beneath his collar,
That stones would warm his biscuits. But the sun that day, oh no, it never rose.

They told him of a tower obsidian in the marshes,
Jade and copper stairs inside four-and-twenty stories went.
They told him of, oh yes, a saffron goddess looming in crocus,
Of a locket filled with pollen. But the sun tried no ascent.
He woke and rose at noon, worn with slumber-saturation,
Eager to commence his travels and expectant of the dawn,
His eyes found no embers in the grey, quiet acreage,
Only coldness never ceasing, and a stone to tread upon.
On his fingers he waddled, the turf rigid, his beard and whiskers groping,
Feeling for the flower blossoms to discern latent trails,
And the water on his nape erupted in spiteful crystals
While the leaven in his pocket crumbled dry like bits of shale.
The stars in silent terror of the sun
Wept themselves, their solitary tears smothered one another's light,
And out of lonesome desperation lunar seas exploded
Into dust and carbon marrow that receded into night.
He wriggled through the agar of the bog's viscous fathoms
With an absent heaven to guide him, a distant hell for relief;
Still, he wandered for the haven of that far, fabled goddess,
For no other destination could he in his thoughts conceive.
Around him in the mire slept hosts of beings
Snared in hibernating visions by the lonely solar dearth,
Their amphibian dreams eternal and devoid of consolation,
Nothing sacred, nothing hopeful, nothing of triumph and mirth.
And when he last encountered the sheer, cylindrical tower,
Black as capillary blood,
He, though not for lack of ambition, could achieve no entry,
So obscure were his sensations as he floundered in the moat-mud.
Yet in the swamp his hands worked, shaping, molding and coercing,
Caked against the castle's wall a twining slope of grit and grime,
And, though knowing he would never spy that tall internal stairway,
Sculpted blood into his muscles and made round the wall, to climb.
Often it is from this blind purpose, more than from optimism gleeful,
That our keenest roads are cobbled and our prairies sown greenest.
For a time incomprehensible he plowed the winding roadway,
'Til his palms knew every pebble and his toenails each grain.
As he rose he ruminated proudly how he had ascended
And how presently the castle's highest loft he might attain.
Out of stone paralysis a songbird's trill bloomed briefly,
Ravenously it was swallowed in the spare, opaque neglect,
And like a summer's chimney, or a soft December snowfall,
All was conclusive, nothing more to resurrect.
For three-and-twenty stories grew his labor, a sculptured helix
He no more could churn and fell limp upon his hands,
And as the stretch of night pressed upon him,
He, the architect and mason, slept dimly in the sands.
Till at last he was as nothing, only the years' burden, and once more was the night black.
But in those fleeting moments before rebel moons expired
They illumined for the traveler the inner crocus bed,
And there within its center lay a maiden still and dreaming, softly heaving,
Yellow roses on her knuckles, orange lace about her head.
She swam amid a fragrant pool of nutmeg milk and clovers,
Tresses dark against her cheekbones, arms encased in finest down.
Her mouth and breath (to say nothing for her breasts) most luminous,
Shone gently mauve and silver,
And draped all about her person, a gown of moonbeams.
For a time he sat in darkness while he pondered, pretended,
And he swore one day, when stronger, he would mount that floral nest,
That his fevers would release him as he bled into the goddess, or she into him,
And his soul would rest eternally, contained, consoled, caressed.
He rose and faced his homeland then (for where else would he wander?)
Weary with mercury's blood and dust inside his bones,
And with one final sigh spilt from the crest of his labors,
He, prepared now for his journey, turned and trod the braided stones.
He wanted then to tell them of that highway paved over with ages,
Of the cradle kissed in cinnamon that lulled the swimming dame.
He wanted then to tell them that they, them, everyone were welcome,
That the bud again would blossom. But the words never came.