The Book Burner, the Sleeper and the Stalking Womb

Between storms in a wooden chair in tall
grass, your hair drying, wisps in the wind, I
watch from within the circumference of
willow roots, behind her braids. I won’t
approach over heaved ground, won’t show
hunger mercy. I’ll sit among the rocks, atop
weeping nettles, under dripping pine,
beneath a clouded sky, upon the shore of the
sand-bottomed frog-pond, in the company of
roaming snapping-turtles, with calico Ivy in
the ferns covered in blood. My thumb is
swollen from sucking, and the flesh under my
eyes is dark and raw.

Treetops moan in the west-wind, bend at
their waists, rounding bodices filled with
desperate whispers. A place of accumulated
essences, distilled impressions, something
nearby holding a leather leash, standing in
the tall cedars, masked by dead limbs and
brown, curling leaves; a Stalking Womb, a
pitch father, all knuckles and elbows, a
decaying shock-trooper out-of-time,
wrestling with time, shaping disfigured
Dresden orphans from the mud, striking
them into life with a cane of birch.

The painted hedge tied with webs spun by
pearl spiders ringing belt-like Book Burner’s
bleached-bone fortress, who perches under a
vent with a furrowed brow, a cinch-scrunched
nose, and untrimmed mustache, with an
acetylene torch, warming bindings, loosening
leaves of brittle-paged digests, I in worn-
kneed corduroys on my segmented belly,
inching into the yard through thistle-down,
the Stalking Womb in wool near but not near
enough, never with sufficient mass to bend
the property into a steep bowl with its own
tantalizing horizon.

Under crab-apple tents, through the crooked
hatchet-hewn trellis festooned with limp
balloons, behind me, wreathed in blue smoke
carried east on black wings, the wooden, tar-
papered tower, and the Sleeper under gables.
In my dreams, a blackbird carries in its
obsidian beak the Sleeper’s marble eyes to the
silent rookery in the larches, east, where trees
are caped and bonneted, picked clean of pearl
spiders by pink-jacketed mantis’.

Over whittler’s rinds, mineral-flecked earth,
the leathery carcasses of worms, into the
bald, beige, hard-packed dog run, railed by
stalks of suspiring steel grass, past the stone
Bolzoi with cloth haunches bedded in soft ash
dimpled by raindrops, motionless under rose
prickled lintels, Book Burner’s sole
companion, carved with a Cooper adz from
felled trees reserved by God for aristocratic
beasts.

The Bolzoi—the once elegant alarm—is lame;
she won’t stir in her ashes, or smell my
chafed skin through long, striped sleeves,
while the Sleeper, snug where once a bell
hung, swaying in an unpadded cradle, pink
gauze in her empty sockets, will plaint
through cracked lips: “Hurry, the Stalking
Womb is on the stair.”

Book Burner, in the dusk of his rendering
room, dim-witted, abloom nevertheless with
the will to the mystical, a toe-hold on
masterfulness, beating back with a rod carved
with symbols of dignified error the spiraling
compasses, the barometers of conscience,
self-possessed, who with a command of high
illusion, who with special organs, who with
intuition, exalts the Sleeper though the
Stalking Womb perish.

And the Sleeper on whose behalf I belly-crawl
with unconscious faith, for whom truth is not
necessarily good, in any quantity, under all
circumstances, if wisdom is not in earnest
brought to bear on the living, while the
mantis’ chitter, carry the standards of folly, of
fact, of hither and yon, against the claims of
ascending value.

Mixing ash with mortar, Book Burner
bricking up the lightless passages to a third
kind of knowing, to hardy percepts designed
to suborn the reasoning mind and the brittle-
legged men, dwarfed by craft, rising in nearby
locks, to inch down the still-watered canal,
dead mules on the banks; inch west to crush
what’s left in the aggregate of vocation, to
campaign against the Sleeper’s verdicts, to
sew doubt in the property once more; to try
our Gods.

Under several seasons of willow branches,
beneath the Bolzoi’s curling nails, the rotting
placard: TEST, NOT TRUST, and below the
placard, one layer each of children, lye and
fools.

✖ From the Novel, Orchard Park and Other Works

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