by Kenneth Patchen
Tiny green birds skate over the surface of the room.
A naked girl prepares a basin with steaming water,
And in the corner away from the hearth, the red wheels
Of an up-ended chariot slowly turn.
After a long moment, the door to the other world opens
And the golden figure of a man appears. He stands
Ruddy as a salmon beside the niche where are kept
The keepsakes of the Prince of Earth; then sadly, drawing
A hammer out of his side, he advances to an oaken desk,
And being careful to strike in exact fury, pounds it to bits.
Another woman has by now taken her station
Beside the bubbling tub.
Her legs are covered with a silken blue fur,
Which in places above the knees
Grows to the thickness of a lion's mane.
The upper sphere of her chest
Is gathered into huge creases by two jeweled pins.
Transparent little boots reveal toes
Which an angel could want.
Beneath her on the floor a beautiful cinnamon cat
Plays with a bunch of yellow grapes, running
Its paws in and out like a boy being a silly king.
Her voice is round and white as she says:
'Your bath is ready, darling. Don't wait too long.'
But he has already drawn away to the window
And through its circular opening looks,
As a man into the pages of his death.
'Terrible horsemen are setting fire to the earth.
Houses are burning ... the people fly before
The red spears of a speckled madness . . .'
'Please, dear,' interrupts the original woman,
'We cannot help them ... Under the cancerous foot
Of their hatred, they were born to perish -
Like beasts in a well of spiders ...
Come now, sweet; the water will get cold.'
A little wagon pulled by foxes lowers from the ceiling.
Three men are seated on its cushions which breathe
Like purple breasts. The head of one is tipped
To the right, where on a bed of snails, a radiant child
Is crowing sleepily; the heads of the other two are turned
Upward, as though in contemplation
Of an authority which is not easily apprehended.
Yet they act as one, lifting the baby from its rosy perch,
And depositing it gently in the tub.
The water hisses over its scream ... a faint smell
Of horror floats up. Then the three withdraw
With their hapless burden, and the tinny bark
Of the foxes dies on the air.
'It hasn't grown cold yet,' the golden figure says,
And he strokes the belly of the second woman,
Running his hands over her fur like someone asleep.
They lie together under the shadow of a giant crab
Which polishes its thousand vises beside the fire.
Farther back, nearly obscured by kettles and chairs,
A second landscape can be seen; then a third, fourth,
Fifth ... until the whole, fluted like a rose,
And webbed in a miraculous workmanship,
Ascends unto the seven thrones
Where Tomorrow sits.
Slowly advancing down these shifting levels,
The white Queen of Heaven approaches.
Stars glitter in her hair. A tree grows
Out of her side, and gazing through the foliage
The eyes of the Beautiful gleam; 'Hurry, darling,'
The first woman calls. 'The water is getting cold.'
But he does not hear.
The hilt of the knife is carved like a scepter
And like a scepter gently sways
Above his mutilated throat ...
Smiling like a fashionable hat, the furry girl
Walks quickly to the tub, and throwing off
Her stained gown, eels into the water.
The other watches her sorrowfully; then,
Without haste, as one would strangle an owl,
She flicks the wheel of the chariot; around
Which the black world bends ...
without thrones or gates, without faith,
warmth or light for any of its creatures;
where even the children go mad; and
As though unwound on a scroll, the picture
Of Everyman's murder winks back at God.
Farther away now, nearly hidden by the human,
Another landscape can be seen ...
And the wan, smiling Queen of Heaven appears
For a moment on the balconies of my chosen sleep.
Last updated May 02, 2015