The Sacred Self – a poem by David Chorlton

The Sacred Self

There goes sleep, in its nightshirt
and slippers down the path
that never deviates from its one true
purpose of remembering. It doesn’t matter
that each call goes unanswered, that
the canyon opens to allow
anyone inside but
nobody may leave once the birds there
have befriended them. When a song
comes echoing along
the gravel trail, it is to announce the obvious
with men hearing only
what they want to hear. Meanwhile,
the eye in Heaven winks
and rock spirits
raise their voices to say this is here, this
is now. Never mind
what stays hidden behind the screens
and thorns; this is where
history comes awake
and speaks only in the present tense.
Barefoot down the slopes and wearing
heavy boots back up, the night
burrows into the mountain and twists
in its sleep while the earth with one eye open
dreams itself awake. Tonight
will stretch from end to end along
the stony path from sunset’s crumbling edge
to the saguaros standing guard against
the city; chilled to the core
and determined
to hold the high ground in the name
of nature. Solstice is a cold night
when owls awaken and follow
darkness’ scent while moonlight
snags on a thorn, and no image
survives of the claw
that cut the silence open.
The moon turns out its silver lining
at the darkest hour
the night can draw
from its catalog of mysteries and threats.
And while the mountain moves
ever closer to dawn
with its eyes shielded
the sky holds its breath. Along the ridgeline
first light signals time
returning to the slopes and the arroyos
where memories find
a quiet place to hide from what
they have done. They’re saddled up
and riding now, along
the wash to where they disappear
into the still pond that contains
all pain. Look hard along
the winding path: they’ve gone too far
to ever come back and be
recognized. To ever find
the scene of their creation.
The water’s on its back but smiling
at the sky today, host
to winter’s folded wings. The walkway
leading here peels itself away
from the left sole and the right at the pace
of injuries healing. It’s that time
in the morning when
the mountain has surrendered
to the light, and the light has unsheathed itself
with no regrets. Up there
at the peak the view goes all the way
back to better times and worse
ones. They run together
in the clouds now: a splash of sunshine
and a red-tail rising
where memories fly against gravity.
The bird came down to drink
an ambulance’s siren from the air; it spread
its wings to shield
the scene from sunlight.
As often as it flew with nothing to invite
it to descend, one moment split
apart and everything that time revealed
lay spread out on
the morning’s road. It circled
patiently. Its plumage shone
as the broad wings tipped to left
and right and
held fate in the balance.
The clocks showed hours and minutes
but no signs
of what occurred. No memory
had come to roost
once the panic was dispersed.
Everybody left the scene
for traffic to resume, but in
the spaces in between the slow cars
and the fast, the bird came down with its
ungainly posture and red
face to clean
away the final traces. Then
it rose in a state of grace
toward the waiting sky.

David Chorlton is a European and longtime resident of Phoenix. He loves the desert and avoids complaining about the heat! He paints from time to time and writes consistently, with a short book, The Inner Mountain, about the nearby desert mountain park in poetry and paintings (Cholla Needles Press), with another recent publication, Unmapped Worlds from FutureCycle Press.

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