Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Devil I Don't Know

It seems to be the purpose of mourning

to change the mourner, to tip over,
in the end, the urn that holds the grief.

When a loved person dies,
elegy formalizes that work.

But what if it's the holy thing itself,
the thing beseeched with prayer,
that's the deceased? What good is elegy then?

I was pushing my cart through the sharp
fluorescence of the supermarket,

lost in this question. People pawed
through the shrink-wrapped meats,

which look like body parts to me
since I stopped eating them,

things that should have been buried,

and I thought, To what should I pray?
I'd always prayed to the ineffable
in its body the earth,

to the sacred violence of storms,
huge tracts of seaweeds rocked in the dark,

the icy crystals of the stars above the snow,
the mystery untamable and pure.

So what should I pray to now
in the hour of my abandonment?

Should I stand in my shining cart and shout
that the age of darkness is upon us?

Or turn inward to the old disciplines
and wander like a disembodied soul
through the wreckage, honoring my vows,

faithful to the end? A pilgrim
grown bright and clean as a flame,

eating only the gifts of the plants
and trees, what fattens among leaves

or swells in the soil underfoot?
Pure offerings. That means

no to fellow creatures bloated with steroids,

no the the heavy metals that shine
in the mackerel like tarnished silver,

no to the black-veined shrimp
in their see-through shells.

No to the embalming liquids
injected with needles,

no to the little chops packaged in rows
like a litter of stillborn puppies,

no to the chicken's sputum-colored
globules of fat, no to the devil I know.

The circular blade started up in the deli,

pink sheets of ham drooping into the plastic
glove of the man behind the counter.

What am I, an empty vessel waiting
for some new holy thing to come pour itself
into me? Where is the new divine?

I want to feed myself
into the machines of grief

and come out changed, transformed,
a new soul with a new consciousness.

I want a new inscrutable to worship,

to turn to in times of uncertainty and fear.
But there's only
the soft hiss of the lobster tank,

and the one surviving lobster, just sold,
waving its pegged claws from the scale.

A small swordfish gleams behind the glass.
Dear higher power, dear corpse of the world

gutted, garnished, laid out on ice.

-Chase Twichell