Out here in the desert, everything is one thing: the desert. What god but the One God, exotic in his reachless amount casting love over our encampment beside the nervy water of Jordan?

John, you have a little gristle when you speak and what’s left of you is the scrape of a year starved on grasshoppers. It is touching to see the basin of your devoted body.

A little bit east, whole lambs were smeared on the temple. The city was coiled, white within its walls (violet), its muscles twisting over muscles. The temple, sleek at the top, smiled with music—it might’ve lifted for a second.

I was just there. The priests wore such tall hats, heavenly bodies dropped behind their eyes. The mothers of Jerusalem suggested curtains tattering down from the markets that whirred with the songs of bargaining, parting one from the other, laughing home.

The dust lifted into the hair of the peaceful citizens and was shaken out. The land was socializing.

The invalids were blind as stars; the children plaited their hair in a manner pleasing to mountain lions: the boys; the trumpets bellowed like lonely bulls—they were distressed, despite their red velvet dresses; the widows were wrapping themselves in silk as their sons carried nearby stones outside the city; mules were begging to be beaten with softer sticks; a yellowing vine was making love to a young tree; grape skins were staining the feet of dancers; merchant’s fingers became little bodies which wrapped themselves around each coin; cups of hot tea startled the mouths of the idle; a tangle of serpents tried to choose just one mate; the lit membrane of a sheet hung in a window to dry, itself a heavenly body. I could go on, John, but why leave the sheet? What sermon on hope or virtue can you make that is more convincing than it?

Leaving the city was a wrenching kind of death, but lying here by you, John, in rocks and flat dirt—Heaven is unexpected.

Each “Plumblossom” is a selection from the papers of Eliot Pfitzer, whose trots and glosses of Naemura Chiri’s work were invaluable to my translations. These have been reprinted with permission from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where Pfitzer’s manuscripts are archived.
Source: Poetry (November 2009)
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