by Bruce Bond
The death gods do not live here anymore.
Codex after codex left the Mayan shores
for the cities of Europe by whose names
we came to know one relic from another.
Missionaries burned the lion’s share,
and the natives watched. For months,
they grieved. The bell they raised went through
the heavy motions, and no one came.
It tolled for them, and no one bothered
looking up. They prayed. They died.
And what remained were artifacts, bells,
the Madonna with her beloved dead
across her lap. And as she ran her fingers
through his hair, so like a god of beauty
and horror all at once, she wept as one does
at the power of singular hours.
And she said to him, let me tell you a story.
Before you were born, I found a book
beside a stream beneath the olive trees.
Discarded perhaps, I cannot know,
or left to console those who wander here
to stare into the current to mend the mind
whose flesh is most water. The paper was bark,
rough like the hands of a mason,
its call like a steeple’s or a house in flames.
And when I opened it, smoke poured out.
It frightened me, so I tried to close it.
The scent of hair blackened my eyes,
and I smelled of it. I wept. You were less
than a word back then, less than the blue
of paradise at the bottom of a well. Needless
to say, I could not read. Or rather, I read,
in my blindness, what only smoke reveals.
I read the way a body reads its world to live,
the way a river reads the lay of the land,
or a shore the sea it strikes and voices.
Let me tell you. Before you were born,
I laid before a book on fire. And breathed.
Bruce Bond is the author of twenty-three books including, most recently, Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir Book Prize, Elixir Press, 2018), Dear Reader (Free Verse Editions, 2018), Frankenstein’s Children (Lost Horse, 2018), Plurality the Poetics of Self (Palgrave, 2019), and Words Written Against the Walls of the City (LSU, 2019). Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas.