Figures in the Carpets

By David Schloss David Schloss

We buy what we cannot control, the rugs,
   rhythm-makers, containing refrains of
the oldest story: a man takes a journey.
   I have no stories inside me, he says,
so travels on, to rest beneath a carpet
   of blue constellations, star patterns
at the edges of disordered border walls.
   At the center, a meditative medallion
makes a moving immortal-flowered ground:
   to live there is to give oneself over
to greenness, redness, occasional blues,
   holding those spirits of woollen dyes
rising from the knots within to breathe
   against the woven, multi-colored air.


Now there is a coat of many colors hung
   around the wanderer's shoulders where
he climbs out from that pit, down which
   he flung himself, or was thrown into.
Reaching to soothe his wounds, he finds
   the dusts of centuries residing there
beneath his feet, the hopeful travelers
   passing, wearing thin, fighting about
how best to articulate the names of gods
   for whom they yearn—accursed by wars'
helmet curves, shields, chained stitches
   of unmediated reds and yellowed husks
of blood—broken lines marking a garden
   in whose precincts his journey began.


Three sunbursts spin, enigmatic energies
   through golden latchhooks, surrounding
cloudbanks; three eagles, darting within
   their shifting images: they return him
to streets of lit porches in summer dark,
   a boy stuttering over random syllables,
a blindfolded man pleading for his life—
   whose fate is in the hands of some men
whose fate is in the hands of other men,
   whose fate . . . until the whole pattern
emerges, and the language becomes clear.
   On the floor lies his mother, moaning,
until he comes out, guilty, before her—
   amid the mud of his own frozen blood.


To live inside such squares as the weaver
   of this green, becoming golden, labor;
to pull back old skins and try to emerge,
   victorious, from that old prison after
so many years, is to find a path back to
   harmonious designs, surely centered on
the search—yet still speaking of a life
   with knotted figures seen as suffering
variations on themes that can be inferred
   from small vibrations of weft and warp,
the ‘snakes' within the threads worn down
   to the shapes of ribbons, even rhythms
writhing in a loom of days: those humming
   ancient instruments whose music seems


raw as colors governed by the earth, pink
   as brick, or deserts scraped from rock,
rough clay slowly grinding, then drifting
   down the slopes of the central plateaus
to fresh respites from thinner regions of
   dessication fixed at the fringes below.
These lands lie under the ache of desire,
   which calls feet out to play upon sand,
to fill each new hollow, and dance about,
   tongues turning on the knots of umber,
ochre, woven into those undulating waves
   others might summon in flowery manners
to escape from bitter orange, still held
   by recalcitrant fingers, to the purple


empowering all those who try to hold on—
   as all things will hold to themselves
an idea of themselves—to an aspiration
   towards good fortune, unwavering even
unto death. Yet here are dusky passages,
   canopies of clearness, an everlasting
understanding of the earth as cancerous
   points of coloration, acid starbursts,
or dangerous blots—all blurring the way
   to move past sight: perspectives lost
and found again, symmetrical, surrounded
   by the momentos one saves from travel,
old friends, like hues that may betoken,
   in hopefulness, some changes of heart.


This creates a powerful language about
   how to levitate a plane—for even as
the occasional murmurs of new machines
   are heard in the land, as old cyclic
gardens arrange themselves in the whorls
   and tendrils throughout tilled fields,
snakes hold up this world in variations
   of light blue skies above temptation.
Even when an illiterate weaver mistakes
   an old date for the design, then dyes
and binds strange numbers into a ground,
   the change of the serif, for instance,
in a calligraphy of days marks the date
   of cartouches as mysterious, unknown.


Yet the signals from the borders suggest
   a different tale: lozenges are bottles
strewn along mauve and terra cotta roads,
   shaped like a woman found lying along
the side of those same roads—the figure
   of flesh, going nowhere but endlessly
back on itself—as a web of years frames
   a dying kind of certitude, innocence.
The birds in these cages signify singing,
   as the tapestries of perfected threads
suggest reticence, chosen intermediaries
   to the indeterminancy of all creation:

and we can buy it yet, articulate or not,
   with each new freeing of our hearts.

Source: Poetry (October 1999).


This poem originally appeared in the October 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

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