numinousmagazine

Joseph Murphy

In Issue 5 on January 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm

The Sacred Road

1.

The fence posts are speaking! The black twigs
Reach to the light through the window of their slumber
As my breath, now a leaf covered with ice,
Descends though the out-stretched hands of the dead.

Here, on the edge of a hill, the wild grass is a torch
That beats the loam with its gray eye
Made of soot and a half-lived dream.

This is where the road begins, here, in churning things:
Where what is broken breaks again;
Where the fallen wall still stands.

This is where Buddha has come to drink, where we watch
The slow walk of a good-hearted word
Reeling through a patch of pine and dark, pulling prow
Through cloud, lifting a thick shale of water, stirring
The lifeless bodies with a twisted sigh.

Here is where the road is found, lost, found again.

This is a place of great contagion, constant worry, persistent brightness.
This is where the cup is twisted and cleaned
Before the clef is sealed.

Nothing here has faded. Nothing is what has been
Or will be. This road runs outside, above, over:
Begin here, reach into the leaning sky’s pocket. Take the coins
In silence, or sing or cry. Begin here: Gulp the smashed stone
Or the star that yearns
To be knit into the roar.

2.

Now the Buddha sits on a limb fallen across the road, singing
Of days of shell and glass, shielding the ripe grass
With his swollen tongue, taking hold of the wind’s sharpened blade,
Drawing it to his chest of torn weeds, willing a rose
To open from the curl of an unfurled wave.

This is a great day for dreaming! A day to shift and turn, to watch
The snow fall from the wall’s graceful fingertip; to wear
The shining, unworn mask
That leaps from the Buddha’s toe.

On this road, lily becomes braid, enclosed waters flood
A day that hasn’t commenced. This is the night
To enter the unyielding place, the hollow chamber
Made from the metal of sleeping words.

3.

This is where the road grows darker, shadows crushing
Even the Buddha’s shadow. Here, the fires
Begin to crumble and what has held firm
Falls quickly through a razor-sharp grate. It is fear
That shambles out from the limbs, crawling ahead, easing
Across the glare, shimmering.

This is where the road leads, but can be lost. Watch the shallow water
Recede at the crossing point. There, just beyond that burnt wing
Something can be heard, though, rising from the leaves, emanating
From the unused lathe, the browning seed,
From the gleaming tip of the heart.

4.

It’s hard to grasp the road’s clear sheen: it leaps
From the fingers, slick from the wild, stubborn heat;
It’s always a yard ahead; evaporating, rising again
From beneath a pavement
Grooved with powdered bone.

The road disappears, is forgotten, lost. It becomes a sigh
Uttered in an empty room. Beaten back by shingle and eave,
It bends and falls, twisting across the knees, narrowing to a glimmer,
Until what remains tips inward,
Stuck beneath an eyelid or under a nail,
Waiting for death to raise the hatch.

This is where the road is hidden, where nothing adds up,
Nothing subtracts; where a rough bark of mangled teeth
Tighten around the Buddha’s door.

5.

Here, a brittle light shines
From what should be a sound

And the road has taken
The shape of a blade. Now, look, it’s a jaw
Crawling toward a man’s gilded feet; gnawing
At his silver stockings. It makes seawater
Pour from the brittle lips
Of the lizard’s cropped shadow.

And the road continues, rises. What to do? The confusion!
Continue? Why? No alternative. Hard, hard, hard: Pavement
Stuck to cornea; the road as marrow.

No return.

What a terrible place. Empty. But the beauty. The beauty!
Then, to twist, falling forward, backward; then, from far off,
To watch your body’s fall
Down a grand slope ─ further, further!

Finally, flattened out, gasping.

The beauty. The symmetry.

6.

The flash of it!

7.

Here, the road is the size of a cat’s claw; now as sheer
As the edge of a frost-covered shield. Waking,
The road rises from its dream
Of foam and churning sand.

It separates, diminishes, inflates; can be seen as a smile,
As a broken bone, as sand or hunger. The road fans out, tumbles;
Can be heard as a plead, a roar.

This is where the road goes on, like any road.

****

Joseph Murphy: I won the Eisner Prize for poetry in the early 1970s, U.C. Berkley’s highest award in the arts, began writing again about 10 years ago, and have recently began sending my work out. I have published in a number of journals, including The Externalist, Vox Poetica, and Umbrella; upcoming work will appear in the Ambassador Poetry Project, Your Daily Poem and Pure Francis.

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