Poetry

The Completion of Shadows

G. C. Waldrep

Oh friends I am a prison to all that lies within me.
It burns the way phosphorus burns. It bears the raven’s flag
into the ragged country called by its natives Los Arpas.
There I saw butterflies clustering at the torn throat

of the fallen antelope which came to me later
in a dream, and nourished me also with its flesh.
In the bellows of my chest a golden chant was brewing
like a cloud caught in a beautiful woman’s jewelry.

And death what would you drink I asked of the body
and its innumerable spirits. And death what would you ride
I called into the red stable where I kept my sex
among the blue wheat of the church’s gapped treasures.

I was offered a living sprig from the temple gate
and asked to plant it wherever I called
home—now I call home the place where the living sprig
tattoos the earth. I drink from it, as a sparrow

from the glistening rock. There was an emperor, once,
in the Book of the Martyrs; I returned his gaze.
And I wore a strip of cloth around my biceps
when I was a young man, for the sake of the beautiful—

dawn stripped it from me. Now I see with the eyes of bread.
And death answers I am afraid, I am so afraid,
my little one.
Don’t be frightened, I say, leading death
into his narrow cell. I sing death a lullaby

amid the brightening bones, knowing that when death
wakes he will recall his true love and leave me here,
even as death’s guards pursue. I who also am
a son of David, I who with lilac fletched my lover’s scar.

G. C. Waldrep is a poet whose books include The Earliest Witnesses and feast gently, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Waldrep lives in Lewisburg, PA, where he teaches at Bucknell University.
Originally published:
July 1, 2018

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