MUSKRAT SKULL, ALBINO ASTEROID, CHUNK OF THE MOON
Muskrat skull, albino asteroid, chunk of the moon
fallen to earth, ivory doorknob picked clean
by ants and wolves, half your teeth stacked like books
on a shelf behind the crescent moons of your fangs
and their reflections, as above so below,
that don’t quite meet in the middle of the bridge
you’re building like an engineer with overbite.
When I look down upon your cranium from above it’s
a beautiful amphora, handles like arms at its side,
a woman hoisting her long skirt up to cross a river.
Musquash, you must be a holy food if they let the Catholics
eat you at Lent in place of fish because you spend
so much of your time aquatically. Do the wolves,
the owls, the foxes, the mink, the hawks, the fishers,
the feral dogs know they’re enlightened
by the flesh of your body? You, alone, of all
the animals who tried and failed, the Gabriel
of the native creation myth that touched bottom
to bring back the starmud that made the earth,
the Gilgamesh of these Canadian wetlands.
Did a rat snake steal your herb of immortality
from the shrines of the cattails you build
at the water’s edge, the bigger the harsher
the winter to come, like siloes you can take shelter in?
Little rodent, here by the river tonight, where
I’m sitting with my heart as skinless as yours
under the stars whose light feels like thorns of insight
piercing my blood, you are my only companion.
I look into the gaping sockets of your eyes
glacially excavated like most of the lakes around here,
though my third eye is aloof and impersonal
compared to the other two, and I realize
how ruthless enlightenment is, still, little guru,
I want to cry like a river that’s come to rest in them
because I can see in you, like a locket of bone,
the same image of life, the Beloved,
I carry in the moonrock of my own prophetic skull.
Did the wolves do this? Did the pike eat your young
and cousin of the vole and lemming, you achieved
your climacteric like stars at the zenith of a precipice
and commit suicide at the atavistic urging of ancient enzymes?
Or did you die naturally like moonset in its crone phase,
the light slowly seeping from your eyes? Best fur
bundled up in yourself for the winter, your tail had scales.
What happened to them? Were they feathered
like dinosaurs into the boas of vaudeville strippers
that teased you with the mystery of their nakedness
and yours, by holding something back from the revelation
so there would be something left to dream on next time
like this amulet of your skull cradled in my hands?
Nocturnal janitor of the pond after all the lights
were turned off and the raucous business of the crows
had gone home for the night, what stars did you sweep up
like fallen blossoms and waterlilies trashed on the shoreline
like the first draft of origami swans
that couldn’t swim in the heights with Aquila and Cygnus,
attached as they were to the earth like kites
at the end of their spinal cords, until the stars took pity
upon their lunar aspirations and landing like waterbirds
on the pond, came down like bodhisattvas
to teach them how to fly when five petals open
and one flower blooms from a seed of fire
that travels on the wind? Undertaker and midwife
what did you bury under the root fires of the hearths
of the bronze age barrow tombs you lived in with the dead
from one equinox to the next standing on your threshold?
Ubiquitous creature, materfamilias of the litter,
or randy male, lingham in the yoni of the yellow lotus,
Muscascus, it is red, your Algonquin name,
what spiritual immunity did evolution bless you with
that you could live in the sulphurous streams that ran
from the eyes of the coal mines smearing their mascara
at their first sight of hell they tunnelled into,
rooting for diamonds stashed by the star-nosed moles,
and thrive in the same polluted waters that killed
people, frogs and fish? Teach me that, if you can.
I’m an island of a man in the middle of a dirty river.
I’m a human on a barge of the moon that’s dumping
the garbage of my species into the gutter of the sea
that returns like high tide to the bay
in the waters of the womb I was born in
like a salmon to swim upstream against
the effluvium of the tomb that washed me out
of my vision of life like something that got in its eyes
or one of your tumuli in the spring run off
when the river ravens with the wolves along its own shores
sweeping the baskets you weave of reeds
for orphaned prophets far out to these oceanic nights
among the wavelengths of life and death I share with you.
Millions of leaves on the ground like the fossils of flames
snuffed out on the candelabras of the trees of life,
the stars may have their crystal skulls,
but yours and mine are mineralized calcium phosphate,
fire and milk, the moon among the corals,
where the living and the dead cohabitate
like collagen turning to concrete in an underwater reef
that will rip the keels out of our driftwood lifeboats
like the envelopes of unanswerable loveletters
cut open from the bottom up. But no shelf
of exotic curiosities in the lost and found of my studio,
no bauble of death to alarm the sedimentary books
above my cherrywood desk for you my friend.
I leave you where you lie upon the earth
on the banks of life beside my mindstream,
nightwatchman of the pond, nurse on the nightshift.
I circle you three times like a spiritual orbiter
a Zen master in bloom, your skull, not
the spent canister of a milk weed pod,
but a wild orchid supple as moonlight
even in death as in bliss, attending
to the business of nirvana like a passing cornerstone
in a clearing of this floating world you weeded
like the empty cup of your eye socket
I look into like a despondent stranger into a black hole
and feel the passionate insight of your eyebeams
shining up at me like stars reading
the Braille of my face with fingertips of light
to see if I’ve understood yet that life in its passage
is an enlightened message, not the frightened warning
that ushers the dead back to their graves before morning.