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ISSUE:  Autumn 1989

Among the Penitentes in New Mexico
—just before Easter—there is a
flurry of marriages

You who are driving clear of memory,
north from Las Cruces, and far from yourself,
and are going past dunes of white gypsum,
past the rock that once sprouted wings and bore
the besieged Navajos to safety, past

the timbered forests the Penitentes haunt
(nomads of the Sangre de Cristos who
crucify, each Easter, one of their own),
don’t know as you’re climbing higher, alone,
so terribly alone, and the blue pines

are like men, descending from the summits,
that a virgin bachelor has been chosen,
that, as the road whitens in the moonlight,
a cross is being built in a secret hut:
and as braided ropes of yucca fibers

are soaked in streams, you don’t know that Silence,
answered by its own echoes from every
direction, is at that moment turning
all history to flesh—so that you will
again be filled with sorrow, and a god,

suddenly more mortal than any man,
will return to his sanctuary to find
just life, with no escapes, his idol smashed,
the bones of his last worshippers on earth
scattered everywhere, no one left to hear

his secret weeping: and when memory,
in the grief of broken stone, is nothing
but flesh, you will hear Silence—as it was
once answered by someone running, a god
escaping, his skin the color of sky

so that his sweat, wherever he caught his breath,
seeped into underground caves and hardened
into turquoise: and as you leave the hills,
clear now neither of memory nor pain,
the gods will have already happened and

you will know that it is too late, always
too late (for whose world is not in ruins
here?), that he won’t be saved, that bachelor,
lashed with ropes soaked in water, blood running
down his back as through the timbered forests

he carries the cross and you, now farther
from yourself, will know his sandals have been
left outside his parents’ door and his grave
in a secret cave of turquoise will not
be revealed for a year: and you, driving

faster now, will know that a son won’t be
returning, never coming home, and when
far behind you the dawn is blood, the sky
a final altar, you will see the trees
once again as men, ascending the hills.

(for Christopher Merrill)


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