The old tropes have died.
Not just roses, whose cover
was blown before the turn
of the last century, nor
columbines and swains—
the stars have burnt out,
earth has covered the mossy
gravestones, and the patina
of moonlight has been
scoured by the winds of time.
Where two roads branched,
we’ve got lights and signs,
though still we cannot find
our way. Nothing molders
anymore, except compost.
No black hats, no white hats,
no hats at all, just SPF-40,
and a few old folks who
drive to the beach to watch
the ocean swallow the sun.
They cannot escape the habit of silence.
Even here, flanked by vending machines,
hunched over veneered tables, they eat
alone, books stacked by their sides as if
at any moment some terrible shadow
might plunge them into the 12th century.
Here in the basement, they hide from the very
brutalities they so eagerly study, words
like dried blood a measure of both the horror
and their safety. This is a vault of mazes
of ancient curses and paths that turn back
on themselves, meant to keep those who search
trapped in loops of their own devising.
Soon one will rise, sack her leavings,
groom, crumb by crumb, the place she has left
then slip away, the others carefully indifferent;
will ease into echoing halls, past racked
fossils in layers like shale, the death of dreams
recorded by the rock that smothered them.
In a poster on the wall a monkey rises to man
then tumbles into a common grave at Dachau.
Nearby, on an urn in a glass case, naked women
circle in God-crazed abandon. She will slip,
silent as a servant at an obscene party, into
a corner carrel, sigh and shut the door.