Hermitage

What grew there grew in tangled
ways, minor thrivings of thorntrees, shocked
cacti, tumbleweeds maddening
past in the cages of themselves, everywhere a sense of
sharpness and thwartedness, he the last
twisted try of it all. Light meant
work. He honed
a little horizon of iron and dawn,
bowed all day over acres of adamant
flint as if he were sowing sparks. He found
shells brittling back towards their sea,
leaves and twigs more sun
than themselves, and a thousand other fragments
eternity was tugging at,
and wrought it all into a tenuous, tenacious form
as if he were founding ruins –
a man who himself seemed half born,
half hewn, his skin mapped
with damage, sweat slicking the juts and
cliffs of flesh, eyes so like the sky
he seemed at once all-seeing and all skull.
What did he ask of us, who did not once
acknowledge us, came not once among us,
thogh we woke to footprints
scalding our lawns, a leprosy
of emptiness gone through all our goods?
What covenant did he keep or rage
to break, his shadow flickering
ceaselessly beside him and the distance stricken
with waves as if some bell of being itself
had sounded? He struck
rock and the rootless dust down to a clay that gave
and gave until he was altogether
underground, smoldering
into sleep, worms of dreams
working under his brow. He climbed
to the only rise there was, the cleft
of rock where the huge beehive hung
like nature’s brain, suffering himself
to taste its sweetness. He wrung
from time a time to vanish
back into the sheer
shells and the strict mesquites, the heat-cracked
creekbed and the needless weeds, leaving us
to sift the glorious
ash of his existence, like a burned sermon.

Christian Wiman

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