What the crow abandons, worms relish.
If I stare long enough at these remains
I will imagine a kingdom undone:
Surveyed. Staked off. Limestone and ivory.
A cathedral built upon a temple.
This bone a buttress. That one a crossbeam.
Every altar stone bloodless and sun-bleached.
Every chapel floor swept clean by the wind.
For now, wind shudders the collapsing ribs,
Swirls up a mote of fur like milkweed silk,
And touches the ruin intricately.
What the wind forsakes, dogs will drag away.
The wind kicks up surf and keeps him awake,
Whistling its plaint against the nailed-shut frame.
The ocean, in its phases, swells and shrinks.
He tries to remember the words to songs,
Building outward from their refrains. He counts
Backward from four hundred and sixty-eight,
But gives up, at last, before zero or sleep.
Daylight dismantles a scaffold of fogs,
Censors the seductive postures of stars.
He cannot bridge the threshold between sheer
Exhaustion and the dead-man's-float of dreams.
The ache of his aching body is so real
He understands, at last, what ecstasy means.
As always, a hairline crack separates
The noumenal from the phenomenal,
Sleep from awaking, the poem from the fragment,
And yet it seems to him an ice-cut gorge,
A comet's wake, a fissure between meaning's
Irresolution and desire's closure.
He starts to recite "Stars of Tallapoosa,"
The meter allowing for plausible errors,
But the poem's final line vanishes like sugar
On his tongue: at first sweet, then a burn,
Then the bad aftertaste of a long night.
Excerpted from Cenotaph by Eric Pankey. Copyright © 2000 by Eric Pankey. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.