When I woke my tongue was changed, graceless,
its pitched, easy speech gone.
Inside my skin, a quickness
slowed, swelled, turned me
thorny as a thing on a branch.
My child’s eye held itself open and wide
under lazy lids, taking in the whole
schoolroom, shelves of books,
the charted signs, powers
blank as the faces of young chemists,
while I lay dreaming apart from them, fallen
on tile like a cold progression of the facts.
Around me they dawdled and marveled
as the steaming ball shrank
to the size of a tabled planet
something had left spinning
when it fled a breathless room.
I had been told of fire in this ice, but not
how to know what it knew, words only
that I put in my mouth to feel
without warning the hard step
of beasts that could shake me
loose from the little I clung to: now
the black board of the night loomed above me.
The breathers of flame these must be
came near and leaned close to know
the sizzle and lick of meat
I was. Whirling like stars
up where the walls ended
numbers and letters shook as leaves
do where darkness buckles to become a cave.
One great big voice I heard bugling.
Then one I was made by lay down
the blade of his hand, sending
me to the room of rocks, the dark
whose speech taught me how to howl.
When I woke I waited in mid-air on the earth.
The spoor of my kind was around me.
Speak, speak each cried. Long
I stared into the dim light
cradling glass jars on the walls.
In stilled rows the famous dead floated
Until I knew myself as pale as their one word.
It lay in my mouth like the sun.
With each limb I tried to rise,
to run, afraid to call down
in the horror of their knowing
that fire I had tasted, that speech
a few only swim back from, known as they are.