We drove for hours across terrain
I couldn't recognize; through
small towns that read:
church, church, feed store, church.
We arrived near sunset,
when the light was gently capping
each ridge, cutting the edges
of rocks in red, pink, gray.
I didn't know what heaven was,
but perhaps this was it:
clouds sweeping gravel paths;
granite disappearing, then reappearing,
in the mist; small peaks poking out of
miniature white mountains within mountains.
The air was thin. I thought I might faint.
You pointed along the serpentine path
and told me it went all the way
up to Canada. How far was that?
How many lifetimes would it take
to traverse that distance? Since I'd met you,
I'd only wondered, more and more,
how one can come to be saved,
I mean truly saved, not the
to be forgiven saved, but the kind
where we each come to know ourselves
-- radiance and repulsion aside --
just simply to know ourselves.
I thought you'd found that
and I wanted it too.
As the sun set, the path began
to fade into an impenetrable darkness.
You said we'd hike the whole trail
one day and I believed you.
Then, back to the truck
for the long ride home.
I didn't know then what heaven was,
but I wanted to believe you did.
Something, a dozen yards from the house,
waits in the snow. Dusk settles early.
To resuscitate the day we install floodlights,
print a permanent dawn across darkness.
On the other side of the yard, at the edge of
this new brightness, it turns again, lopes off
into a blackness at the edge of the light’s plain.
Something waits, still and deep and ancient.
The rest of my family, asleep
in early winter beds, in dreams
of spring, are engulfed in an orderly
procession away from this envelope of hunger,
of cold. I’m alone with it. I can see its fur
glisten in the moonlight. The line between
outside and inside stretches impossibly thin.
In a few hours, the rest will wake.
Daylight will drown out the darkness.
January’s monsters will melt like the snow
through which we now swim.
This one deep in fear. This one crouching.
The room was full of stars.
Their light white, iridescent.
The blue behind them, darker
than my darkest dream.
He was there. He wore
a shirt embroidered with stars.
Against that night sky,
I could barely see him.
I thought it better to stay,
discontent as I was.
As I woke, he threw
the window open.
The vacuum was broken.
All of the stars rushed out.
I'd grown fat with it, like most do.
Every day the receptacle of all
that rage, anguish, that madness.
Not everyone is made for listening;
priests, perhaps, in the confessional;
psychologists and their couches;
those like me who feel we
must stay and take it in.
An ancient Welsh tradition
allows a family to hire a Sin Eater
when a loved one dies.
The Sin Eater comes and devours
the feast the family has placed
around the corpse.
With each morsel of food,
the Sin Eater takes into himself
the missteps of the dead;
when the table is cleared,
the dead one goes to heaven
and the Sin Eater goes mad,
filled as he is with
someone else's sorrows.
For months, I feasted at his table.
I'd lost all sense of hunger or satiety.
My mouth remained open
and his miseries flew in
bite by bite by bite.
Even now I recognize the effect:
When I spot a table
laden with food,
I back away.