The Spatial Representation of Heaven
A seventeenth-century triptych, by an artist
who had angels suspended above a hinge
between both sides of the frame, so as you move
to view his world, so moved the heavens.
Stepping one way, the angels appear to sing;
the other, they would damn earthly beings below,
caught in hellish earthliness, squabbling for possessions.
A little later, with the Romantics, heaven was light
in all its many manifestations, sudden and brilliant,
caught between two clouds and intensifying a waterfall
towering from the height of jagged cliffs on jungle edges.
A little empty, but insightful, given our violent nature.
The natural world letting go of all it had retained since
those darker ages, reconciling desires with the Devil.
Now, we have a pasteboard sign that reads The End
Is Coming. We stand before the Great Judgment,
an old closed-down Five and Ten.
The terrors of what’s next are left to digital imaginations,
the art now suspended in the voices that survive
a new wilderness of the ungoverned cities. No light,
only this homeless fellow peddling raffle tickets
across the street from a beauty parlor catering to poodles.
Yaks at Basecamp
Some colossal architect, who built with peaks and valleys, seemed here to have wrought a dramatic prodigy—a hall of grandeur that led to the mountain. – John Noel
In air so thin the birds drift slopes
like stones, a beat-up blue Toyota
climbs against the rutted high plateau,
a road designed to convoy German,
Chinese, or American tourists
to the high earth foothold.
The Colorado boy, head like an
unripe melon, believes the yaks
animals of another century’s burden,
trailing single file through yellow tents,
with magpies, same as home, riding
their backs. A thousand feet
above this alluvial plain, a fort’s mud
walls deteriorate, slowly, since
the fourteenth century.
Up there, above basecamp, some
Sherpa past exists, who did not know
this space as threshold. But for us
the long climb up Dzakar Chu valley
exhausts; we could trudge beyond,
to Camp #3, even without oxygen
for our hungry brains, but the Chinese
charge a permit fee. And then,
the wind whips us clean of any sense
that we might be adventurers, strips
the boy to the bone. Beyond, stark heaven,
the root and altitude of Being,
at the center and ends of the earth.
I came to see what others have seen,
but now find postmodern extremes,
boulder fields crowded with a city of tents,
groups of twelve or fifteen, all properly
fitted in the right light gear. And as
the yaks wander through this subterrain
of heaven, their shepherds do not see us.
Three below the high cloud-covered
Chomolungma, holy mother, barely
visible for brief seconds, the temperature
dropping by double degrees, yak bells
clanging out a primal time. A place
unlike all other places we have been.
We suck into ourselves to fill
a crack in airless geography.
Descent to Furnace Creek
Day wanes, thins like air
in a desert’s self-taught stratospheric
disguise, as earth, sand, stone,
the suddenness of the unchanged,
out and down from Darwin
around Zinc Hill, form a passage
leaving civilization behind
for the ends of the earth.
With the descent into a wound,
nature’s purest, dry mistake,
a heat that singes living things
on all its surfaces,
the bike complains, oil boils,
with gears tuned to higher climes,
to glacial air or mountain valley,
as the dishwater foul subterrain
at Badwater dislodges it’s angry self.
From Zabrinskie Point,
the panorama sinks into desert’s
fleshless palm, read with wonder,
as purple sage, phacelia, like bleeding
royal tips of fingers, desert gold
culls sunlight from the duller stones,
and pink verbena, purple mat, yellow
evening-primrose crowd the sand
to orchestrate the impossible,
colors on a death’s-head landscape.
Nevada elevations already zeroed
out, the highway sinks to hellish depths;
the bike whines as each mile
drops two hundred feet
and brings the temperature up
to boil by slow degrees,
as radical as a false equator.
By Furnace Creek,
the bike has melted to my knees,
night closes in like molten lead.
Sleeping here would be a dream,
to toss and turn at earth’s extremities.
Gear up, the basin screams, this is
snakes’ and lizards’ sovereignty.
Ride the sharp-toothed ridge
out, climbing to a simpering heaven,
somewhere just outside Pahrump.
George Moore’s fourth poetry collection, Children’s Drawings of the Universe, will be published by Salmon Press in 2013. He has published poems in The Atlantic, Poetry, Northwest Review, Colorado Review, and internationally in Queen’s Quarterly, Semaphore, Blast, Dublin Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, Singapore QRL, and elsewhere. He was nominated last year for two Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Web and Best of the Net awards, and was a finalist for The Rhysling Poetry Prize, and the Wolfson Poetry Prize. He teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder (website: http://spot.colorado.edu/~mooreg/Site/About.html).