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The Valley of Shells and Bones

“What scaled and feathered fetish shakes awake our loamy sleep
in these sealed vaults where dust and sand erase our golden masks
hammered over dreaming faces drowned in tinted musk?
Here where the spider curls and chitters in the crystal locket.
Here as time’s mouth leeches blood and brain and bids
the leather skin to tighten in on the empty, staring socket,
and bind the breath that laughed within the dusk?”

Here is your thin tin trowel,
And here your sable brush,
For prying loose these mitered stones,
And sweeping off the dust
That sifts between these shaded souls
Like paling ebony snow,
As you squat above the site
Where you worshiped once below.
Come thrust your torch
Through  shattered walls,
And map the stains on stone,
And explicate these distant deaths
From strewn patterns of bone.

The distance that such deaths define
Is measured by that ageless path
That winds up from the sea’s last limb
Meandering to the blood’s demands,
And, rolling over shells’ sharp rims,
Finally finds its well-trod way
To midnight’s flaming brands
Where vacant, lusting faces grin
Within masks of whitened clay.

This path slopes through the stunted woods
Where the mantis ruts and broods,
Then spirals down to the sacred caves
Where men in twitching files repeat
The witless chants of wind and waves.

“Thick curds of rancid smoke performed our genuflections.
Our flayed limbs writhed, then steamed in screams of light.
Our lidless eyes became one daring crow’s confections.
Our shriveled nerves shrank back from the chittering coal’s delight.
Our marrow melted fast as flames licked up our blackened bones.
Our gaping mouths spewed rancid smoke as if they would relate
the secret magic flint and steel on tethered flesh create.”

Here is your iron pick,
And here your crested spoon.
Not silver, true, but still
The emblem of your art,
Which is, to wit,
To lay these bodies bare;
Explain their ritual agonies,
Deduce their sorry fate,
Describe their diet, sex,
The colors of their hair,
And tell how long
Their ashen lair
Has lain beneath
Our present pleasant State.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Howard Nelson February 18, 2018, 6:08 AM

    Thoughts arising after once again bowing to the master of mood, meaning, rhythm, and phrase,

    ‘And when someday what of each of us does remain,
    will it too be exposed, whether buried in soil or sea?
    Or will our mineral dust, once to wind or water thrust,
    be collected by some searcher’s legerdemain or lust?

    Know this tho, the best, and be at rest,
    our spirits, flown, will not here be found;
    they’re home forever with friends celestial, free, unbound.’

  • wcgreen February 18, 2018, 10:25 AM

    May I have the address of the Aztec mask image?

  • Casey Klahn February 18, 2018, 12:08 PM

    One of your best.
    I’ve rubbed something, not elbows or shoulders, with archeologists and paleontologists. Maybe I just breathed their air. I never had the right bug for it, but did consider it, once.
    Well done.