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 has published many award-winning collections of poetry, including Blizzard and Touch, as well as a memoir, Orphic Paris.
Originally published:
December 1, 1986

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