From the Archives

Saint Stephen's Day with the Griffins

Henri Cole

     Half-eagle, half-lion, the fabulous
          animal struts, saber-clawed but saintly,
     a candlewicked ornament dangling
from our rickety sugar pine. Butternut

     pudding in our bellies. His reindeer
          and sleigh hurried here and gone—thank God
     for us childless folks. Almost: the lovelocked
Griffins on the sofa, sockfooted, hearing

     gas and a kiddy heart in her tummy—
          a life more imaginary than real,
     though one is dazzled by gold that fills
this egg unbroken. We feed her crumpets

     and listen again: The lamb's a hungry
          bugger, even snug from earth's
     imponderable fury. Tomorrow, in a spurt
by jet I'm home. Clumsy as a puppy

     I'll scale the flightstairs into the nosecone,
          luggage banging at my sides, enter the egg-
     shaped cabin and await the infrared
climb toward space. Tell me one

     thing true? If I could count the way
          things slip from us: Mother's fur gloves,
     Sunday's benediction, the dead gone before us,
love's rambler on the prairie—all displaced

     as we buckle in our shuttle,
          jetbound on a screaming runway,
     gravity pulling at us castaways,
more mammal than bird, subtle

     leg-weary griffins made manifest,
          arrowing towards home. How do we
     ignore it?: the attenuated being
of our age, the bittersweet collapse

     of dominoes mooned around our pine.
          Withered with hatred from his quarter,
     Saint Stephen even at death rolled mercifully over
in high holiness. Sonless, wifeless, nine

     thousand feet from land, I roll the lozenge
          on my tongue, youthful habit for ache
     of any kind, parting a survivor (Wait!),
love rescuing me from the fringe.

Henri Cole is the author of Blizzard and Touch, as well as the memoir, Orphic Paris.
Originally published:
December 1, 1986

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