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Tower of Babel

ISSUE:  Spring 2017

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563

My reward for waking: close walls
and limestone dust, spit
evaporating from my tongue. First

I count and recount
my toes, throw out grain
for the carp, snatch a femur

from the waterwheel (each
is a small mercy). Then,
splitting cedar for the winches,

building cages and stacking
them so high they wobble
in the wind. One man owns

all this land. One tongue,
all these men. How long will it take
for the water to lap away

the shore? For us to become fat
with boar and clover honey? A heartblink
and I could be popped

from the face of the world
like the king’s glimmering glass eye
set nightly in a jar of pear wine

and pink salt. Man’s soul has been divided
since Adam. In our toil
we stitch the two parts together,

making them pious and unafraid. Still,
I confess to not knowing where
I belong. When I dream, I dream

of a crystal lute, its sound
unspooling into me like hot black
flowers burning through a corpse.

What it means: I must bear
this living, pass stone up ladders
and raise the king’s flag.

Each day I dazzle the Lord
with my labor. Before long,
I will have a great bed in the sky.


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