“He talked about persistence,
a congruence of lives”
—Seamus Heaney, “Belderg”
grey autumn skies spread memory round about,
heavy stands of barberry on raised tussocks
under oaks. a sleeping sentinel ringed round
by drumlins, moraine, blanketed by this small field
of blossoming clover slumbering and soft to the touch,
the rounding folds of his body breaking angular at the joints.
lostness clings like lichen, the pearled clouds pass by.
a maimed, wandering spirit on the move and planted
here for a thousand seasons between Bede and Ælfric
plying their monkish trade in scriptoria a world away.
great horned form straitened by the sepulcher white
of asphalt at the knees. his bed the rhyolite earth,
its clothes detritus of hazelnuts, double-serrate
leaves in fivefold clusters, horns wreathed in fern
and goldenrod, creeping jenny trailing and sneaking
through grassy allies spurting from fragrant soil.
a sole vulture glides overhead marking out his length,
and shocks of cool purple michaelmas daisy lay
on fernish ground while bovine sentries toss their heads
in the mud rollicking and mounting. his city mosquito-speckled
maples, cottonwoods dropping new decay to the earth
and the ribald smell of good dark humus.
o horned one, what words did they say to you?
what were their supplications?
whose vision did they follow to sculpt your
protean, graceful form, walking westward,
head to the halfway line of the world, feet
to its top? what lies within and beneath you,
iube Domine silentium fieri in aures audientium,
ut possint intelligere et Deo benedicere
iube, Domine, benedicere
they will build you bucketful after bucketful
of soil lain over ash and cist gathered
at your heart in the midmorning gold—
not too much from one place, lest a canker
be left open, a breach in the topsoil.
the Lower Narrows visible in the gaps between maples
the cornfields emerging, fires have been burning,
charcoal left to marble atop multi-colored soils.
they lay you straight and solitary
to hold this place,
clusters of rock beneath your cranium,
the upper world made in earth relief,
and so we are, and so you stand until the earth
is no more.
iube, Domine, benedicere
—Day of the Dead/All Souls, 2018
Author Note: Man Mound is the only anthropomorphic effigy mound still intact in North America. Built by the Late Woodland peoples approximately a thousand years ago, it was preserved (after some damage from road building) from further damage by the Sauk County Historical Society and other local groups in 1908. If you would like to assist in the preservation of Man Mound, you can donate to the Man Mound Project here.
Jacob Riyeff (jacobriyeff.com, @riyeff) is a translator, poet, and scholar of medieval English literature. His primary interests lie in the western contemplative tradition and medieval vernacular poetry. He is a Benedictine oblate of Osage Deanery and lives on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side.