Adrift in the Temple
The wrong man said, “This circle prefers darkness.” The other traveled endlessly.
A sparrow of a girl with swift black eyes appeared, fascinated with the light at rest on the
imaginary chair. She held three words in her mouth until they fell out. “Ear. Hand.
Knife.” Once she started, she couldn’t stop. She might have been the wrong man’s
She spoke of something lost and something still disappearing. She visited the
crumbling township of Rust, examined owl pellets near the gate and entertained a stone
lamp flickering among the lupine and mugwort.
The wrong man said, “The mole and the magpie were listening to the gossip of the
stable boys popping snowberries against sharp stones by the bridge. The sun paused to
nest in the shivering poplars.” The wrong man gave her the tiny novel, which she folded
into a cube and placed in the light on the imaginary chair. No one else was left in the
The wrong man’s surprise party followed the anxious black dogs out onto the lake.
Two crows reflected in the wind-polished ice flared briefly before the night’s slow snow
cargo descended. A nervous accompaniment of blackbirds darted in and out between the
crow’s long black wing-strokes until they formed a large black handkerchief and their
entire dark sky was flying over them.
An hour before dawn, sitting in the rowboat frozen into the riverbank near her
house at the edge of town, the wrong man’s daughter remembered crushing walnuts
before they ripened, brushing the fragrant green pulp through her hair. She didn’t tell this
till years later. She was waiting for the right moment to say, “Don’t you think salt creates
a terrible silence?”
The wrong man answered the new temple of transient sky, drifted south in its
darkness. He thought of his daughter as friendly. He let her lead him out of the
uncertainty, but they still didn’t know where they were. He could no longer remember
what she said, but he agreed not to name the missing birds. Their darkness continued
fleeing and he realized the suddenly freezing rain had been imprisoned in so many ways
he could no longer imagine all of its crimes.
When they arrived once more, the tiny novel was speaking from the light on the
next chair. It said something about worship, but the wrong man could hear the knife in its
voice and its feet were cold. It seemed to be reaching for something at the end.
The township of Rust was still waiting. It seemed to be attached to a failure to
emote. Its blood had gone sour and dry. Its dry lake seemed less willing to accompany
anything that wasn’t traveling in place. The snow had been falling behind and it
exchanged its fleeting future for rain’s accommodating discomforts.
The wrong man lit the stone lamp and his daughter began reading her new life to
him. Her mouth did not contain the same words that had crossed the frozen lake. Its
cooling hinge was opening and closing like the mouth of a baby bird, as if she had not yet
understood nature’s reticence. The wrong man thought about placing her back in the
poplar nest, but she was growing too quickly.
The wrong man wanted to start yet again that last morning, but the lake had written
its own prayer and he was listening to its latent career. Loud veins of blue were offering
maps to his uneasy desire and he had to hike once more into the mountain of words he
had assembled to keep the world from falling out. The tiny novel was glowing. His feet
were listening. “You’d have to be worshipping far inside,” he thought. “You’d have to be
more than yourself to get beyond it.”
A flight of bats sutures the fading sunset closed and the dream settles upon your
shoulders as if it were a cloud embracing a worn and unsuspecting mountain. You don’t
know what to say, so you tell yourself, “I can never forgive you for forgiving me.” You
do this in the present even though the past had been faithfully attending your goals.
Perhaps someday you will no longer be the warmth that keeps throwing itself out
the window. Perhaps someday you will no longer seem accidental as water. Perhaps
someday large ghostly presences will not be drawn to you. Interviewing each slippery
gray stone, inveterate time has been counting the complacent constituency. Perhaps
someday, you’ll grow as comfortable as moss-hair waving in a trickle of creek-water.
Perhaps now we have arrived at you, so settled and so lost. A man likes to feel he’s
best at something. A man likes to be other. He has no time for time’s cruel solutions.
Now we’re sudden and now we’re removing Stalin’s spleen. It’s a musical with
surgical instruments. It’s been brilliantly anticipated by those who don’t arrive.
Even the sutures are dancing. We’re making fish now with tickly fingerless gloves and we’re filling the rivers with them. We’ve reversed history. It’s a time of plenty and the
assembly lines are creating workers with happy new hearts who travel to foreign lands
and grow corn that longs to be taken on great expeditions. We’re all growing mustaches
and carrying rolling pins. The roads must be improved and the bullets salvaged to make
the toy soldiers. The applause is thickening and the bread is shaped to remind us of the
fish. Beer has been invented, and calisthenics, and kissing naked people hanging by their
feet. You might think it an aberration if we weren’t reliable workers. We have only three
colors, but they readily exchange addresses and it’s enough to paint our way to a
perplexing investigation of our recovery.
Rich Ives is the author of Tunneling to the Moon: A Psychological Gardener’s Book of Days currently being published in serial @ Silenced Press everyday in 2014 and forthcoming in paperback. Begin from the beginning, catch up, read daily. Just refer to the Burrow Guide.