the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




FOUR WORKS
BY CARRINGTON MACDUFFIE

STORY PROBLEM

Given: This time the train is not a symbol
of the sex act, it's the link
between point A and point B,
vehicle for perplexing
questions of how long journeys take,
when we'll ever get there, how far away
the place we started lies
and what we need to know
to figure anything out -
but most perplexing of all,
how we're always here
and it's always
now --

Given: This train is so heavy, when it even moves
a slow half inch its momentum is already too great
for a man to halt with all his weight, so we'll say
this train is everything you are
always in the course of becoming,
engineered by the unacclaimed and unapproved
deepest center of you, odd and true, with its unfailing sense
of direction; you're heaving coal
into the fiery box and the swelling heat
is singeing what little hair the female
face still makes,
then the engineer hauls on the whistle:
Go. Given:
If you've ever hopped a freight you know
that even very close
to motionless, it could pull
your arm from your shoulder.

Here are the box cars, jointed together
like measures of music:
one has fog lifting out of its open lid, cargo of obscurity;
one is water without walls
that despite slopes and turns stays still as a pool;
one is jumping with a circus - there's
the acrobat at the tip of his upswing…
one holds many thousands of marbles, inward-turned and hypnotic
as cats' eyes, asking who's seeing who;
one contains whispering against each other
many shifting sheets of paper
written on, written on -
one contains one snake, sleeping,
dreaming of snake;
one has movies flickering inside, thoughts darting
like a reptile tongue in a vivarium,
and the last one
is a sly mirage, where the lens of the air
makes this end car appear
like an escaped thought - is the car
even there?

Now given all this - the engineer, your own point A,
the jointedness, the hot belly burning,
a clock keeping track
of our subjectivity, and whatever it is
a snake dreams about -
where
is the train going?

where it goes, where it goes, where it goes, where it goes

================

PHOENICOPTERUS RUBER

                                - from the Greek phoenix, the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes; and pteryx, wing
                                - from the Latin ruber, red

Climbing up at dusk out of the cold thin
woods where everything hibernated and the spry
branches of tall saplings slap back and
sting my numbing skin I found

myself on a high path
where mid-morning air came suddenly warm and soft,
slowing my pace,
opening my senses, and drawing
my eye out to fall upon
a deep-green lagoon spreading to all the edges
of distance and shimmering
with thousands of flamingoes
who step and drop their down-bent
beaks to the water to feed
on the teeming life that infuses them with color
and without which, in captivity, their perishable blush
is snuffed,

and as they wade and dip they release across the marshy surface
concentric circles, and then eccentric figures that crisscross
between the radiating rings, all giving shape to the water
which reflects the sky and many things
invisible.

My hair is a powerful red and as it comes to me
that today I can breathe
fire, an intruder
appears, stalking towards me along the narrow path,
skinny in slouching clothes and a leering, nasty grin,
and without a thought I know I have to do him in.

As he bears down on me with snaking arms and attacks my
breast with jabbing pricking pins to puncture and bruise
the succor and punish
the feminine
I open my mouth with the dull bang
of combustion, as when a match is finally touched to hovering gas,
and unleashing the ire from my inside out,
from the depths of the lungs where
the wind turns around, from
the root of the breast
with a hot white booming breath I
turn him to cinder as I must. He burns

until he is light
as petals dropping
from the ovule-bearing pistil,

and having escaped,
his blood, late evidence of his heart's rounds,
now seeks a new circuit,
draining gently down the steep slope of fast-growing grasses
and into the fueling stretching pool where the
stilt-legged birds drink from the complex
patterns that never leave a mark.

I nudge the layered ashes with my toe:
they rouse and disperse.
The blood
quietly infiltrates the lagoon, and when I look up
the whole, vast, brimming flock
is vibrating and pulsing with the deep
rich red of this vivid resurrection.

I watch the wetland ripple.
The flamingoes barely make a rustle.

================

RETURN OF PAN

Coming down worn stone
steps embedded deeply long ago in deep
green grass and down
past tall stone wall and hedge old as Christian
conversion, and turning the
corner to pass under
the arcing shifting tree beautiful
beautiful tree with its many-
tongued green where the wind idles and things seem
to secrete themselves, milling and weaving with the birds' paths,
and where the wordless
speaking of self-shaped leaves
coaxes away little strains of the part
of my heart that always aches - how good
to step beneath all this along the wide and
love-littered path; and then
an intake of breath
might be what makes me
look up:

Crouching half hidden in the branches
for all I could see, from his torso down all tree,
looking like the sad flip side of the trunk-entwining she-snake
and unexpected as the Cheshire cat
but soft and calling mute from an unmet swelling-point
of the heart inflamed from an ancestry of not saying,
he leans his head out.

Dark curls array his crown in a fringe
of sadness, and his gaze bears down
on me from a liquid soul behind
eyes dark brown as my own - I could be
seeing into a rustling pool
which is also wordless.
He reaches his dominant hand down - not
the breast-beating arm of brute
strength, but easily strong enough:
hand gently curved, perfect
pale half-moon of the thumbnail,
monkey-wrinkle of the clean and well-squared knuckle,
cultivated and handsome hand resulting from
millenia of considering -

so that when our hands clasp and we each pull
inward
my feet leave the ground, I am
contracted smoothly through love and will up into the canopy
where face to face
we search and search,
the living green makes itself
around us
and at last our kiss
is a pact between all that's walking
and all that's neglected but is
offered all the same
as a clue or apparition
by the green force,

our kiss
reawakens this oracle into the mind
out from the perfect understanding
of the light-bearing tree so that the leaves
are chiming like silent bells and I'm chiming
like a perfect bell of light.

================

THE DROWNING MERMAID

Her deep lungs hauled in air
or water, her tail smacked
the surface lustily, sending a frisson
up my spine. Her spine
is flexible and strong as my
writing hand, and just as manipulative.
As for the look she gave me:
Would my death be tender
and dreamy-sweet, would I sink
into my own unknown layers and join
the yielding medium that dissolves
everything, or
would the horror stop my eyes and stop
my brain cold leaving me staring forever with one thought only
into her cold cold sea?

I see a little mirror
fall from her stark-white hand and drift
downward through fish-shadows
and empty shifting thoughts, downward through the mind
of ocean wandering in currents through itself
intertwined and fluid like her hair sifting
in the mind's eye,
down into a cleft so narrow and deep
I'm made to ponder the extent
of my reach, and so I swam
down toward the breach - which asks
for nothing, it's just that things
fall - and I caught the mirror by the handle
and drew it up:

Will she be reflected here
as in a fisheye lens that only converges
on her glassy world, her form looming out
from the convexity?
In her hand
the mirror stands for vanity, but freed
it could be a falling moon
with albedo so high it'll double
even a single particle of light.
As I grasp it and turn it toward my face
expecting to see as far into
it as it
sees out,
a wave of unnameable powerful thought
rolls through me, sweeping me out, opening my fingers -

The little looking-glass drops down
turning loosely in the water, flashing its
visage of the sea - endless, dark, shifting -
a flash of me floating there in a slow sprawl -
and she who seemed to seduce me
is nowhere near this death
but is breaking the surface and glancing the sun
off scales colorful and changeable as an oil slick -
because color is light is color
is light you might say -
while the mirror flips away beneath me, plunging
beyond where my body can go.

I'm watching a shard of my face turn over
and over in the tumbling glass -
smaller, smaller,
far below.

It grows very dark.

One last white fleck -

...then all that's reflected is the depth around me.