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Three dreams and modernity appear in the scene,
hand in hand with misgiving: November 10, 1619

A phantom touch and the soul folded on its lungs and dragged its good half leftward, heart over foot, wheezing and shamed. The phantom mouths blew around and blinded the soul and spun it on its foot like a weathercock, westward, where on the road the college enclosed by low stone walls loomed up, its iron doors sealed upright. Someone recognizable stepped into the path and walked past. Someone else addressed the soul by name with a message: Señor has something for you. All the people around sat on the still grass. There was a heat-rashy baby asleep in a stroller, his mother fanning and beaming at a man with wet armpits who coddled his buckle while he talked. There was a sweaty-headed boy cocked over a book. The pretzel man stood by his wagon and counted lots of money in the shadow of his wilting yellow umbrella. The soul wound counterclockwise and slumped useless on its heart and fought to walk upright and fought to catch its breath. Someone held out a hand cupping a round little thing, a strange melon or a nut, or a tiny brain furrowing into itself. Thing so small it could not be fathomed to exist without falling into nothing. The soul, calmed now, gazed at it and wondered what can this be? Everything that is made, wonder said. And the phantom mouths blew, and the round little thing made out to be nothing, and the soul, itself nothing, could not decide.

§

What remained to be touched? Not the poor room’s woodstove waving with ash. Not the flickering hole among mountains and clouds where the soul hid itself as the wind departed, leaving air enough for fire. Fire at the mouth. Mouth down the mountain licks tender into the folds of the valley, valley mouthing fire into sand, sand mouthing desert into fire. The soul in the hole hid its head in the dark as the fire departed, leaving sheer rock and trembling. Trembling, the shadows beat their wings against the walls and crept downward into shadow, and the rock face shuddered and the rock face shuddered and the soul seized its face in the folds of its garment as the beating departed with night in the wake, and lightning. Night, the blown mountains; night and the valley of sand; night and the flickering roots of the missing trees that dead-end in rock; night, the graves, the flash of bones, the thunder jaws the air. The soul hid its face in its hands. The thunder spoke, and the bones rose and came together, bone to bone, upright, strapped with gristle and muscle, sacked in fat and skin, and there was night, adoring bone adoring bone. The sleepers stared into the burden of the valley of dream, and the soul walked among them and hid among them, the legion thunder, the bodies blousing in wind.

§

Where was the evangelist but fording upriver, with objects in either of his outstretched hands, the book in his mouth aflutter with breath?

If it is not the automaton
in hand, the chirruping box
& grinding handle deftly
perched atop the wires, not
its ruffled hair-like filaments
or bill raised north to the
currents, & not the snap
-shoot dial of the eye,
& hinging innards at wing
&
i-lift at a click at high noon,
never quite a demon in
sight reflected, fractal, in
the pools, it is the make
-believe shell tunneling
forever in itself. It is
retrieving its own pearl. It is
paving a growing hollow as
it goes. It is spilling
iridescent passages that flash
downriver to the shore. Yes
and fin-less it is they crept
to the willows’ velvet or
warmed their scales, their
extravagant blue-green tails,
on the sand and sang.

The evangelist lunged between river and sky, river-sky expanding, contracting in the scene, the motion of the evangelist a still point in the meeting between water and air. Lung of the sky: drifting circumference. Lung of the river: black vein of the sea wrings the sea. But as the day rolled away, the rim of the world approached headlong, and a rift wavered faintly around. A line, was it? A decision taking hold, mirror-like, I think, and vain? The evangelist, hardly visible now, more dream than prophet, became a figure moving through the swaying poppy fields. And the book, still fluttering, became a figure of flight. Lung of the sky, sheer old ghost. Lung of the river, another newly arrived shadow. And the dream let the matter drop. And the book flapped apart by halves and halves. And the last of the book fell away.


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