Black Series  

On the crest of the far hill, the one tree
with bare black branches is Medusa's head,
her snake-hair spitting stars into the sky.
I would hack her at the neck,
watch color and movement flood back into the world.
The eyes in her hair, like the intricate, stopped workings
of a clock, would press against the ground,
and the tongues harden, roads to nowhere, blue in the blue light.

Then reds and oranges will startle back, awake,
hawkweed spreading through the fields
like the hurt, violent silence after requiem.
The children will braid wildflowers
into the horses' manes and tails.
Dull green as dollar bills, the tall grasses barely waver,
but when wind and noonlight flood them
their silvery undersides rise up to cut the stillness.
Their shivering doesn't frighten me;
it is not a nervous thing. It knows nothing of the fever fed by fear.

Far from the rigidity of mannequins
the lambs wander over the back fields.
Thistles stick to their foreheads, such ragged, misplaced crowns.
Across the road, two horses rub against the fence,
flies feeding at their eyes.
A car gleams in its metallic estrangement,
odd creature with shiny purple skin.

This is the kingdom that quickens and won't sleep;
the fierce ignited light of tenderness, unburied.
Tonight the moon will rise
full and white, like Medusa's murdered face.
But she will turn nothing to stone. I have my hawkweed in a bowl,
orange-red as Chinese silk, a fiery bridal veil, a vow.
It is this my eyes will close on.


I can almost taste the glassy air. Where are the birds in it,
wings lifting as currents buffet them like echoes, bright
chaos of atomized instances,
storm-light gashing, hurrying, dispersing? I can almost taste
the stillness. Are there faces in front of me? Are those eyes?
And tongues in a gathering wilderness of mouths? Always it is strange
to watch them change when he lifts me from the sack and makes me look-

my eyes a chisel, then a shroud, wrapping them,
colorless, frozen there, all stone.
Inside the sack I remember the soft
contorted flickerings of skin
before I drew my gaze completely up
and entered, still amazed at how my eyes
enact their mandate. And I think of how, from out of my own body

(which is lost to me now, rotting in some nameless place,
torso, arms and legs gone piece-meal, mossy, rank) a horse with wings
was born, flying up past dirt, past swirling
dust, into the winds that sweep past stone,
past all the dead and trees and leaning stems, and past the steady
weapons of my eyes. How did that horse come to grow
in me, that winged and unbound thing? It was like
something I dreamt, a whispering I might have heard

in the long-ago of light and mist and rain
imprinting unreadable coins on the rooftops.
What is safety? How can the world shelter itself
from itself? If I could stay blindfolded forever-

and not turn each thing into a caption, rigid and shatterless,
perfectly intact. There are quick particles of light
behind my eyes, neurons acidly scattering
small suns, unhooded sky (or my body, wholly lost to me now, or the horse's
wings prospering and beating). Then I taste the glassy air again,
hear the steady breathing, and then the hands (I think of them
as voices speaking on a soundtrack that re-winds,
repeats, repeats) reaching to undo
the sack, lift me into sunlight, make me look.

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    Excerpted from Black Series by Laurie Sheck. Copyright © 2001 by Laurie Sheck. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.