Four Poems

by Jerry Jenkins

Lucy - The Grove - Hannibal's Dream - Tang Horse


Late day shadows crawl across the gorge,
each inch the measure of a thousand years.
What brought you here, my little one, to me
out of your bed of sandstone and debris
and dusky midden, maiden of a far time?

You bear no souvenirs, no farewell gift
bestowed on you by her who mothered you,
or him who loved you. But your blank stone eyes
and mute and rounded skull cap testify
to more than placement on a fossil line

of ancestry. What joys moved in you,
what dreams beyond the grasslands caught your heart?
When sunlight sparkles on the distant peak
of Kilimanjaro, do you try to speak
of how you loved the sun, or do you turn

back to remembered trees' enfolding green,
up out of grasslands to their canopy
closer to heaven, out of Olduvai
to seek the stars we seek? Lucy, in the sky
the diamond constellations wheel and burn

and still we look for something past ourselves.
Now we will chivy nature from her cells,
unravel frog and fruit-fly chromosome
and you, the fruit of patience and of dust -
we'll recreate you, strand by patient strand.
Lucy, I fear us. Let me hold your hand,
and, Mother of all, Grandmother:

Lead me home.

The Grove

It's sunset but the sun will not go down.
It hangs behind the sheltering trees and shines
with pale persistent luminosity,
an anxious clinging child who hesitates
to leave the comforting hem of the evening haze,
as if this were the day to end all days.

Here is a park, a still reflecting pool,
a formal walk, a wood with umber shade,
warm depths that nestle bird and bumblebee.
Outside the wood is a wall with an open gate
that closes now. No exit. All is quiet,
and the trees are limned with a new unkindly light.

An old man waits for me beside the pool.
Each of us has sought the other out.
We stroll the path while he speaks earnestly
of something I can sense may be too late.
An urgent light is growing in his eyes.
Above the treeline, sudden missiles rise.

Their thunder wakes the wood, they climb to height
through scattering birds, then fade from sound and sight.
The patient bees resume their chores. I wait,
reflecting in the half-hour left to me.
The sun sets in the old man's somber gaze.
This is the day, the day to end all days.

Hannibal's Dream
    ...from an account by the historian Livy

I dreamed a godlike man. When I awoke,
he stood before me as a glowing mist
that rises from the fields in morning sun.
He was silent, yet I know he spoke
and when he did, he flickered like a flame.
I could see beyond him, as through smoke.

"God has sent me here", the spirit claimed,
"to guide you to the realms where you must go:
up the coast, and over upland plains,
past the waters of the river Ebro.
Keep your gaze on me, and I will lead
you out of Spain and into Italy.
But never look behind."

I felt a chill,
a wind from nowhere blowing through his eyes.
He turned and moved ahead of me. I tried
to keep pace, but he rose into the skies
and burned above the crest of distant hills.

For days I followed that relentless guide.
I was nothing if not dutiful;
(and, frankly, was afraid to take the chance)
I never looked at what was to the rear,
or anything that lay on either side.
Nothing tempted me to turn my glance
to what was sinister or beautiful.
But one day something rustled far behind,
something I could feel as much as hear.
Even then I kept my gaze ahead.

But it grew louder, like a rising wind,
the earth shook, and I turned as if compelled.
A huge snake's head rose up where I had been,
a smoking cloud that towered above the trees.
Where it moved, trees burned and forests fell.
Behind the ruin it left, a coal-black sky
crackled and thundered, and the great snake's eyes
glittered. Its tongue, a barbed pitchfork of Hell,
flickered, and lightning bathed the Pyrenees.

"What does this vision mean?", I asked the ghost.
It spoke from far away through wavering light:
"This is the Roman Empire, laid to waste
and toppled like the forest from its height.
Now do what must be done, and don't look back."

The spirit faded. As I stood engrossed,
the serpent's coils started to unwind.
From out of them, as far as I could see,
an army marched and glittered, with a black
and writhing sky above them. Great and gray,
the elephants were trumpeting behind.

I, Hannibal of Carthage, on that day
turned toward the Alps and waiting Italy.

Tang Horse

How handsomely this porcelain stallion stands,
in polished dignity. Its contours flow,
duplicating how some craftsman's hands
idealized a horse seen long ago.

Its outlines are too rounded, though; they blur
the edge of truth. Like pebbles in a stream
erode in time, all replicas refer
to some primeval shape, another's dream.

Wild upon an arid, windblown plain,
the archetypal horse was once alive.
A sculptor saw how sun upon its mane
limned it in a light as sharp as knives.

Of all things horses are, the artist chose
the graceful lift of hoof that pleased his eye,
and so we have the old, much-copied pose,
the foreleg raised to stamp. I don't know why

but there it is. An ancient dynasty's
stylistic preference survives today,
distorting horse and man through centuries.
Among the random poses I display,

what grace of mine may catch another's eye,
what casual act of being make him pause
to stylize me; what copycats will try
to mimic him, eliding what I was?

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