by W.F. Lantry
|The Terraced Mountain. Available at Amazon.|
So there I was, minding my own business, counting ceiling tiles. Not much else to do really; they'd laid us in these lidless clear plastic boxes, face up, and it was a bit of a struggle to turn over. Hardly worth the effort. None of us were very articulate that day. So like I said, most of us were just lying there, maybe giggling a little, looking for patterns in the ceiling. At least the climate control was working.
Then I heard something coming. I hadn't seen the floor, but I assumed it was tile, based on the echoes. Clack clack clack. I must have recognized the rhythm from some forgotten experience - when they offer you river water to drink, don't take it! I knew it was her heels making that noise, and they were getting closer. The door opened, and she swept into the room.
She had two attendants with her, looking young and efficient. Both held clipboards. And she - oh my goodness! Dark hair. Pearls. Long flowing gown, sewn with some kind of jewels, catching the light, sapphires, maybe, or amethysts? I was like two days old, how was I supposed to tell the difference? There was a shawl over her shoulders, silk or pashmina, woven with gold thread.
|My lost homeland: San Diego Bay, California|
The clacking got closer. Suddenly she was standing right next to me, with her attendants scribbling furiously. I could sense her perfume, and a change in the light. She leaned over, close to me, with that intense gaze of hers. "This one," she said, and she pressed her thumbnail between my eyebrows. Deep, maybe deeper than she intended. I'm not sure she wanted the mark quite that noticeable.
Even now, everyone talks about it. It's in all the pictures. Someone tried to photoshop it out once, for a book jacket. Didn't work.
Then out the room she went, and I haven't seen her since. Nor her attendants, which is sad, because one of them was pretty cute. I liked her skirt. After that, it was pretty much a normal life. I played in the waves, not because I liked to surf, but I enjoyed listening to the sirens and watching the mermaids. They never tried to tempt me, although some of my friends vanished inexplicably.
|Another shore: Côte d'Azur, Provence, France|
Books appeared, and I read them. Nothing was quite what I wanted, but that just kept me looking for more. In the summers, I'd wander the redwood forests, you could still do it then, and gaze into the canopies three hundred feet up. I thought the whole world was like that, mermaids and sirens and redwoods, maybe some blossoming ocotillos out in the desert, bright scarlet after the winter rains.
All this time I'd been writing poems. Love poems. Landscape poems. Spiritual-pastoral-courtly-botanical-erotic poems. So when someone invited me to another shore, saying, "Oh, you should write some poems about where I'm from," I didn't think much about it. More of the same, I said to myself. Oh, boy.
I woke up on the train, as it headed into the provinces. I saw my first vineyards, rows of vines stretched tautly over the red hills. There was a sea, bluer than I remembered the ocean. Azure, really. And the sea was to my South, so I couldn't get my bearings. No waves, beaches covered with round stones, Aleppo pines gathering along the shore.
|Stained glass: Musée National Marc Chagall-Nice France|
We need the landscape to repeat us, but this landscape changed me, although I tried to resist. And I tried to resist the dancing women. Picture the scene: I'd just done an evening poetry reading at the Musée Chagall: murals and fountains and stained glass near the stage. Now it was the after-party in the terraced hills. I could see the moon reflecting on the waters of the midland sea. Music came from somewhere, and everyone was dancing on the ochre tiled esplanade. And there she was, suddenly, swirling, spinning, a vision of wind and silk, carelessly in my arms. Could you have resisted?
So many dalliances, all distractions from destiny. It gets worse. One time, I was drinking wine with a distraction at a café on the central square. People were dancing around a statue. And there she was, in a long skirt, twirling. She raised her arms over her head as she moved, the black cashmere shawl in her hands fluttering like a small bird's wings.
Another time, I was doing a reading at the Centre Pompidou. Bounding up the stairs, late, people were waiting. So when I glimpsed her, examining the statues, I couldn't stop, and by the time the reading was over, she was gone.
Caribbean: Derek Walcott.|
From there to other shores: snow and an exiled Caribbean taught me the lessons I needed. I fled the blizzards for the Gulf. There was a reception, and someone got his antlers stuck in a chandelier. As I helped him disentangle, he said "You look like a man who enjoys Scotch." I was. We killed an entire Famous Grouse together, and by the time the bottle was empty, he'd turned me from poetry to fiction.
So many stories since then, so many poems. Mozart said, "I write music the way cows piss." Typical Mozart. I'm not like that. I'm more like a fig tree, endlessly making leaves and fruit. Leaf after leaf after leaf, and the birds come and sample my offerings. Sometimes they get drunk on the fermentation, and then they sing from the branches like mermaids. It's what I was made for, perhaps it's even why I was born. Who can say?
|She said, "William, start writing!": |
But remember that woman dancing in the central square? One day, I was sitting in my office, holding court. And she came clattering down the hallway, back into my life. When she waved her hands above her head, everything previous disappeared: the distractions, impedimenta, the fittings and fixtures. Nothing previous mattered. She sat in a chair, crossed her knees, and kicked her sandaled foot. She laughed at the mark on my forehead. But she knew what it was. And she said "William, start writing!"
by W.F. Lantry
She says, "An autumn feeling now descends
on June." It's true. A yellowed cherry leaf
spins down to a mown lawn. The darkened air
turns afternoon to evening, and rain
accumulates in half-scythed roadside ponds.
Along the Anacostia, downed trees
thrust their last barren limbs, almost in prayer,
towards those rocks where our lost pathway ends.
But this is no December, when I first
heard her sing "Ave", answering my grief,
grafting her harmonies across my pain,
changing my loosened tethers into bonds,
her voice, like shifted days, answers my thirst
with early rain, and brings to mourning, ease.
(Little Red Tree 2015), The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012), winner of a 2013 Nautilus Award in Poetry, and a chapbook, The Language of Birds (2011). He received his PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Honors include the National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry, Patricia Goedicke Prize, Crucible Editors' Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (Israel), the Paris Lake Poetry Prize and Potomac Review Prize. His work appears widely online and in print. He currently works in Washington, DC. and is editor of Peacock Journal.
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