The Oral Tradition
      I.
 
The three schoolgirls wait in the snow
for their bus,
or the mother’s yellow beachwagon.
 
      II.
 
I, too, am a child, actually an X-ray
of a small child’s chest.
During the winter, my best friend contracted polio.
Her father burned all her linen
in a red barrel under the elm trees.
 
      III.
 
A not at all anxious Israelite
with a jeweled breastplate
is carrying a clay tablet
through the rooms of our house.
When he passes my bed I see
sparrows flying
from a nearly sunken freighter.
 
      IV.
 
I asked the Israelite
what is that thing he’s carrying?
He says don’t be alarmed
it’s just a wall switch—
on/off, off/on…
I wake crying.
 
      V.
 
In an old bezel of wisdom
please understand the coincidence
of a large mirror resting flat
on darkly polished floorboards.
The frame of the mirror and the wood
of the floor are indistinguishable
one from the other.
A pearly wet light everywhere!
 
      VI.
 
When
on the wall, the mirror is closed.
 
      VII.
 
The simple first plane of spirit
is not extensive, it is
switchback after switchback.
The mountain
 
is collapsed as with the mirror
but, yes, with zippers like a human skull.
 
      VIII.
 
A chosen one’s large head
touches his sister’s feet
while they travel
down the birth canal
into a bath of midnight light
from a sooty lamp.
This is Tibet. There’s a plague
and conifers.
 
      IX.
 
It is deliberate like the fish
slapping the floor
of the black reed-boat.
 
      X.
 
One bone of this fish,
called the Elias bone,
is stuck in the throat.
 
      XI.
 
Washing your face in cow urine.
A turnstile
of light. A table set
with bread and wine:
 
one bone of this fish,
called the Elias bone,
is stuck in the throat
of the fish
 
      XII.
 
like a compliment
of mirrorglass or a simple
switch of birch
across your hands and face
being washed in cow urine
as a disinfectant…
 
beside the seven lakes.
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