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Christopher Bursk: The Procession to the Palace of King Neptune

“Say, I intreat thee, what achievement high

Is in this restless world, for me reserv’d.

What if from thee my wandering feet had swerv’d,

Had we both perish’d?”—“Look,” the sage replied…

Endymion, with quick hand, the charm applied—

The nymph arose, he left them to their joy,

And onward went upon his high employ,

Showering those powerful fragments on the dead.

And, as he pass’d, each lifted up its head,

As doth a flower at Apollo’s touch.

Death felt it to its inwards: ’twas too much.

—Endymion, Book III


How could a man, barnacled as rock

at low tide, rank as seaweed,

have a story worth listening to

by a prince enamored of the moon?

And yet Endymion finally took the wand

and scroll from Glaucus’s knobby fingers

and did as he was told:

tore the parchment into pieces small as snow,

and struck the wand against the empty air

times nine, and a host of lovers lifted their heads

as if the sun himself had descended

to wake each of the dead

and, no matter what they had suffered,

each shook off a thousand years of imprison’d sleep,

and Endymion and Glaucus led this multitude revived

and limber again, jubilant,

down marble steps, pouring as easily

as hour-glass sand, toward jasper pillars and opal domes—

’tis dizziness to think of it!—

and all I have to do now is keep reading

till my own resurrected dead march with them

as if they too had sailed in the same capsiz’d ship

and been locked forever

in the anonymity of a sleep so sound

no words could rise from them

to our expectant ears. There’s David Kime laughing

his Woody Woodpecker laugh

as if he’d never been consumed in flames,

and Sandy Becker next to him,

so distracted by a heron

she forgets to bring that gun to her mouth,

and Doug Hughes trails behind

not quite believing his good luck

at having his body back again

and Doris Sivel holds a book she’d been putting off

reading, and Barbara Winne, her back

finally straight again, takes notes

on the most common of flowers since everything now

seems exotic, and Del Purscell’s there too

putting the world straight

once more, and Nils Falk has a list

of questions for King Neptune because he can’t return

to his wife empty-handed—

that’d make dying a complete waste—

and Pamela Perkins-Frederick and Herb Perkins-Frederick

in their matching neon green hoodies

have already cornered Triton

to discuss the thermodynamics of waves,

and Robert Fraser leads the way with his walking stick

for a whole legion of minor, minor poets

because all of us have been raised from the dead

but that doesn’t mean

we don’t need a little help still keeping our balance

on the golden steps

in the marble halls to which Endymion had led us,

especially if we were singing,

and by now who of us isn’t singing?

From With Aeneas in a Time of Plague by Christopher Bursk (Ragged Sky, 2021). Copyright Christopher Bursk. 

Christopher Bursk (1943-2021) was an American poet, professor and activist. He is the author of nine poetry collections, including The First Inhabitants of Arcadia published by the (University of Arkansas Press (2006), praised by The New York Times which said, “Bursk writes with verve and insight about child rearing, aging parents, sexuality, his literary heroes, the sexuality of his literary heroes.”

Endymion. George Frederic Watts, 1869-72. (Source: Gods and Foolish Grandeur)

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This entry was posted on November 18, 2021 by in Poetry and tagged , , , , , .

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