The Brief Journey West

By the dry road the fathers cough and spit,
This is their room. They are the ones who hung
That bloody sun upon the southern wall
And crushed the armored beetle to the floor.

The father’s skin is seamed and dry, the map
Of that wild region where they drained the swamp
And set provision out that they might sit,
Of history the cracked precipitate,

Until the glass be shattered and the sun
Descend to burn the prosperous flesh away
Of the filthy world, so vilely fathered on
The fathers, such black cinders, sitting there.

Old pioneers, what lecheries remain?
When schoolgirls pass, what whispers of their skirts,
Cold gleams of flesh, solicit in your veined
And gemlike eyes the custom of desire?

None now. Their eyes are sunk in ancient flesh,
And the sarcastic triumph of the mind
They now enjoy, letting their lust alone
Who may have kin but have no longer kind.

Neither tomorrow’s monstrous tumor nor
The reformation of the past they wish,
Who hold in silent colloquy the world
A shrivelled apple in the hand of God.

They hang at night their somber flags aloft,
And through the amorous dark pursue their theme
Of common images, that sleep may show
Them done with all disasters but the one.

Howard Nemerov, “The Brief Journey West” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.
Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977)
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