Sean Nevin

Solomon’s Palimpsest

The darkness you sense
in the half-lit garden
becomes two deer, grazing
themselves into existence.
Their eyes are stoked coals.
Their quick heads
are the shape of anvils
and are forged
entirely of hunger and bone.
They lift, then pause
between the plum tomato’s
yellow blossoms
as if to take measure
of the world that lies
between themselves
and the whimpering hound
left tied to a spike
in the neighbor’s yard.
A mongrel bitch
long-haired and thin,
she recoils at an airplane’s shadow
that scurries across the lawn.
Its crooked darkness
triggers memories of the day
a boot lifted her high enough
to see her own black image
rushing beneath her.
That same night she couldn’t stop
the five blind pups
from erupting out of herself,
each a full-bodied howl.
Her silken uterus
was a torn purse
slung out
beneath the sagging porch
like the uncinched drowning sack
you fished from a stream—
its slick litter
left glistening on the mossy bank.
This is why she is mad,
why she snaps at the thread of air
trailing bees, and runs
herself against the anchored end of rope
until it creaks, until
the rope itself moans
around her own neck.
Because she remembers,
because she can’t forget
the way she carries her ribcage
like the carcass of a turkey
broken inside her chest.
For a moment the dog almost seems
to consider her own predicament,
as she leans into the tether
and traces her rutted circumference
that much deeper into earth,
then settles, then breathes.
At the dog’s deep exhalation
the deer stand,
black-faced and silent
as two spelunkers
watching a third descend
with ropes into the breathing
crevasse of consciousness.
They’ll wait for dream
to set its black flukes
firmly into the mind
before they advance
any further down the seed line.
You are convinced this is the way
past lives return,
slowly and in pairs.
Your parents emerge
from a darkness,
a slipstream of memory.
They are standing together
at the oblivio gate
framed by the ornate
molding of a doorjamb,
like an old portrait hanging
from the sheetrock wall.
Your father’s fedora is angled.
He is silent and thin
as the coat rack.
Your mother’s dress is cotton
and burgeons with fluorescent light.
She steps through shadow,
steals the face
of the night nurse
and counts in a whisper
after the trapped flutter of pulse
alive in your wrist.
she quiets the house lights and waits
for sleep to rename the bedroom
hydrangea, 1942.
Dementia is the moonlight scalloped—
the stunned flit of the yellow jacket
sealed in a double-hung window,
each thought a stutter against glass,
a confusion of world and wing,
coat rack and father.
A bee in the mouth
of the garden hose,
the stung tongue
of language,
the anther, the pistil, the swarm.
The word salad of object and name
that buzzes the ear.
The hirsute thorax,
the venom, the stinger.

The wild flank
of body vibrating, swelling the brood.
The blue mud dauber, the carpenter,
the red-tailed bumble, the mason,
the faithful leafcutting,
the tarantula hawk, the digger, the honey.

Dementia is the bent monologue
of shadow flowers, blue-leafed
and blossoming along the walls.
Through the bedroom window,
you watch the silver
line of street lamps glow
and shiver like electric hives
vanishing from their branches
into fog. One after another
they return: a dim row
of stammering moons
that fire on against the night.
You backtalk the dead
burrowed in the fire pit’s
banked-down embers.
Red-faced and winking,
they rustle and clack
false teeth; they chatter and spit
through beards of ash
until the coals shift, break
open quiet as a language
starved of fuel.
And every night you search
the changing hillsides
in the oil painting
hanging above our bed—
the copper hogbacks lifting
the gulches and peaks;
the thousand burning leaves
of autumn
all assume the color of smoldering
heartwood, cinder and ash.
The thick brushstrokes
become blue-gray grubs,
then tragic lips
pursed and throbbing
into this world
from another.
One image gives way
to the next, reveals
a ghost-text or the lost
portrait’s yellowed eyes
that seem to shift
beneath the surface of everything,
that skulk through bramble,
that watch the made shoulders
of moonlight and furniture
levitate across the room.

Sean Nevin
“Solomon’s Palimpsest” is from Oblivio Gate (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008).