The Symeon Proposition – a poem by Ann Power

THE SYMEON PROPOSITION
St. Symeon Stylites, A.D. 389 - A.D. 459.

Symeon Stylites, the elder, the most famous of the pillar saints, lived about 30 miles or a twelve hours' ride from Antakya, Syria in the mountains. There he made his home for forty-two years
on successively higher columns, the last one sixty-six feet tall.
 
Telanissos, Syria.  March, A.D. 459
 
 
I.  after
 
Thighbone to heaven...
and I am climbing,
even in the huddled light of nightwings,
skyward.
 
As far away as "now" you will want details.
As close as "then" they came curiously staring,
pointing, seeking.
You must somehow see particulars as irrelevant.
That is the message: neither noun,
nor verb, nor adjective, but preposition;
and in the disposition is everything.
 
Balanced precipitously, purposely,
you may take me too seriously, finding fun,
my message intolerable.
This pillar I built beginning with an outcrop
of rock, pulpit to the distant valley; the rocks
rolled heavenward, mortar and trowel working
a circular ascension, the sand path wrapping its way
around the whole.  That was the beginning.
 
You desire to know the miraculous;
I shall resist your temptation.
 
II.  inside
 
Grained, concentric around the radiant purpose,
purposing, in the narrowing of years,
mined of purpose, scoriaceous in the wound’s flesh,
I serve to heal, leaving the escutcheon of my memory
as gift.
 
There is no reason to begin in the preface
in order to arrive.  The possibility is alive
even in the preposterous preposition.
 
III.  about
 
So what, you will say, if the fellow has climbed
a furlong to heaven?  An excited ecstatic,
you will think, worth only the view. 
It was a small decision, a few feet at first:
the preposition disposed;
yet in fervor, the heart spills its abundance and
is enlarged.
 
Running away from or toward,
I needed to be with you but not with you:
reachable but out of reach.  In your day,
I would make the tabloids as astral figure,
a supernal lightning rod.
 
You want to know details:
how I ate, slept, whether my bowels churned,
as if it matters.
 
You think I knew everything wrapped
in ethereal haze, the sugared hush
of sanctity.
 
I knew nothing.
 
IV.  beyond
 
Behind my squared patio,
balustrade against the winds,
a canyon gorge.  There stone cliffs
shadow the swift river, green with minerals,
that flows joining the Orontes, joining the sea.
 
In my view, the sweep of fields:
the soft first blossoms in apricot orchards;
rivulets filled with the last snows melting,
overflowing shallow banks,
washing the world; and nearer yet,
an olive grove, leaves, green-gray, then
Midas silver in the breeze.
And always an outline of mountains,
the muted colors, an irregular tapestry:
background, a gray furze; highlights in mauve, 
green, ocher, punctuated occasionally
with clusters of dark fir.
 
To the southeast, Antioch spreading
across the plain into sprawling suburbs,
winding around the river, winding its way.
 
And the people, every afternoon
I see the people, begging for healing, begging.
 
And I see the stalwart line held steadfast
by my penance.
 
V.  despite
 
And how was I fed and what did I eat?
My table's fortune was supplied.
Imagine:
St. Anthony's raven offering a surprised berry;
a gull, inland from the sea, bearing a flopping fish;
a peasant wife raising, at sunset, a wicker basket
filled with apricots or manna from the carob tree.
 
It is a necessity to know?
One either consumes or is consumed.
I made the scarcer choice.  A fire
that burns through hunger, this choice;
mind and spirit freed from flesh,
for consider the apricot beneath whose soft,
textured fruit lies the heart—a stone with wings.
 
VI.  for
 
Dramatic action?  It was not missing:
 
the wayward bee, fat-pollened body,
exploring an anthered vase of lily, its velvet halls,
then flying, flowering the world;  
 
the antlered summer sky, flashes clashing
like invisible wills working their want;
 
the beetle moving slowly across
jagged rock, finding its way carefully,
leaving its green-bronze armor, vulnerable,
in its exertion,
as you are, as I was.
 
VII.  before
 
At the monastery I slept outside the gate for days,
begging, sure of my intention,
the dusty evenings embroidering my aspirations.
And when I would not go away,
they let me in.
 
I could offer everything, and
so I did.  I was suspect, watched, wondered at,
a prize circling the confines in a cage of straw.
Years leafed, unleafed the seasons.
Leaving community, leaving...
I chose a strange, stalagmite existence,
chaining myself at first with a leg iron,
later testing my courage in staying,
by cutting it free, bolstered only by my spirit's
plinth and plenty.
 
How ridiculous I must seem, irrelevant
in a world moving horizontally across time;
my standing on one leg; the heron, landing,
standing on one leg, too, eyes cast heavenward,
as if mocking me. Laughing, I understood. 
 
VIII.  into
 
Always in my cyclopedic eye, Antioch:
I saw ships laden with cloves and cinnamon,
coriander and fennel, sailing from her river port
to Alexandria, Athens, Rome.
 
I saw the baths—
solarium, tepidarium, frigidarium—
sleek bodies resting in the ease of leisure
rubbed with unguents, and perfumes.
 
Saw the goldsmiths hammering effigies
that rivaled those of Ephesus,
the butchers, the wine merchants;
saw the sailors following hearts incised
on marble markers—mappings
to languid prostitutes.
 
Saw the splendors of a Dionysian feast
articulated in mosaics, busy with beasts
and garlands and grinning satyrs.
Saw the Temple of Hecate,
its jasper steps, a descent to the cavernous
and polished rooms of Hell; and
I have chosen, as missile of reversal,
an ascension, further and future,
beseeching with proximity.
 
Saw before dawn, the 14th of September,
in the bluing of the wind, Antioch crumbling
around its uneasy ground, the quarter,
Ostrakine, destroyed,
the island palace, Diocletian's palace,
with the Tetrapylon of Elephants collapsing;
the colonnades, the baths, the clepsydra,
trick and trickle of time, all destroyed;
the city ablaze in its newly-shaped destruction.
 
I heard the intercessions;
I saw the dispossessed, the weary.
 
IX.  from
 
Pillow and pillory,
my pillar became an arrow finding aim,
became a focus for affection.
 
Obelisk oblation,
from my vertiginous vantage,
opening a window on verity,
I, like a frail needle,
am magnetized to wonder.
 
X.  toward
 
Attendant, ardent, I
await the briared rose
that climbs the cliff of summer;
await the hovering cloud, apricot and orchid,
announcement of magnificent presence;
await the horizontal journey, the side-wise severing,
that begins after, ends with expectation.
 
XI.  until
 
Visible bell, temple of fleche and flesh,
burning wick on my great candle:
syllable and sign
for all who come to hear, to see—
for you, deep down drawn to upward,
I offer the preposition,
the apricot.
 
Observe my groaning
who, in diametrical dissonance,
falling found the rhyme's lay,
failing found the strength of slight;
held them, orb to the world,
and felled
the cedar gates of heaven's court.
 

 
 

Ann Power is a retired faculty member from the University of Alabama.  She enjoys writing historical sketches as well as poems based in the kingdoms of magical realism.  Her work has appeared in: Spillway, Gargoyle Magazine, The Birmingham Poetry Review, The American Poetry Journal, Dappled Things, Caveat Lector, The Copperfield Review, The Ekphrastic Review, The Loch Raven Review, Amethyst Review, and other journals. In addition, Ann’s poem, “Ice Palace” (The Copperfield Review) was nominated for Best of the Net in Poetry for 2021.     

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