You never knew what we were about, so days
turned to pebbles in your shoe. You wanted
to quit the path, sow seed and watch it grow.
But that place was not for us. I tried to take
the bundled twigs you carried to build a fire,
but you had chosen each the way a child
gets seashells at the beach and wants the next
to be better than the last, coated with pearl.
You often asked where we were going, but I
didn’t hear; the wind was so strong it swallowed your voice.
You’d scan the edge of sky but found nothing
to see. At night you’d walk away from where
I lay until I became as distant as
the stars that seasoned the dark. The sun and cold
made our skin like leather; our souls immune to time.
One day we saw a colony of ants
go marching off to war. You followed them
until you saw their swift red current swirl
into a sea swelling with death then watched
as red pygmies clashed with giants, picking up
their dead and dragging their black bodied foe behind.
Later you cried. And when I asked you why,
you couldn’t say beyond its awful silence.
We came on houses built among the rocks
and gardens spackling the earth. You asked to stop
to splash your face with water from their wells,
to rock on weather-grayed porches and feel the touch
of another woman’s voice besides your own.
Later, you found stones and showed me pictures of birds
rising unimpeded toward the sun.
In towns where farmers sold fresh fruit, we walked
among them, sat with them at night. I heard you laugh
and saw their light reflecting in your eyes.
Brighter than the stars, softer than the moon.
A mountain crazed the rim of heaven’s bowl.
A city rose like the mountain’s child. Its streets
flowed like liquid music, its walls shimmered
like pearl in the morning sun, its windows blazed.
You said I should go ahead. You said you’d stay.
I lost my way. Against a wall of stone,
I watched the lights rise from the city. I
had nothing to do but wait for dawn to creep
across the sky, erasing stars. The world
around me shivered with sound, a staccato dawn,
the polyphonous hillside spotted with bird song.
And I had somewhere else I needed to be.
Having seen the wonders of liquid music and glass
on fire and you becoming you, I turned
and made my way down the mountain’s other side.
Joseph Saling‘s book A Matter of Mind is available from Foothills Publishing. He is the runner up for the 2016 Bacopa Literary Review Prize for Fiction from the Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville, and his poetry and short fiction have appeared widely in such journals as The Raintown Review, The Formalist, The Bacon Review, Blue Lake Review, and Carcinogenic Poetry.