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. . . stairs for the void running down to the garden
─ Wisława Szymborska
From fallen fence to ragged tree line, on late
each stiff knee-high stalk of bleached grass
vibrates a glassy light.
Bare feet trample narrow paths that lead down
from rolling hills
through wooded hollows, across pastures, ending
at this first worn step,
polished by untold soles. Grasshoppers clatter in low
colliding with bare legs, fluttering down naked spines
in this procession of sun burnt backs.
Near a muddy, cattail-choked pond in the middle of a fallow
field, the spiral staircase ascends.
No one more than shivers as grasshoppers scrap across
their skin, spitting brown saliva.
No one in this unending line ever looks back until they stop
and place their right foot on the first step.
Even the brittle locusts and their mechanical whirring are not distraction
enough to slow the slow progress.
Little relief to hear the vast silence beyond the arbored insect choir
they’ve passed through,
or that the line extends into the next county, country, century.
There are men wearing three-cornered hats,
codpieces, jeans; women in hoop skirts, wasp-thin girdles,
spandex. Most already surrendered
their fashion to stand naked. The first tread sags from the weight
of so many long journeys, but no one cares,
leaving their itineraries in the grass for beetles and moles,
turning lighter than air as they step higher.
The spiral column carved with suffering, the stair risers
ornate with beaks and snouts,
with fins and claws, with teeth and feathers. Souls grimace
with the hollow pupils
of wide-eyed shock. The naked line an odd contour,
a bloodless vein
without a heart lost in the numbers of an eternal autumn landscape.
Those who reach the breathless top,
have no time for speeches before they plunge, the final step
carried by a breeze across the garden.
Copyright 2017 Walter Bargen