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Finding Rama’s Bridge

the elephant moves through the forest
silent with unwavering purpose
her skin a shifting star-map of leafy shadow
she and the tiny deserter have shed all trappings of war
behind them tongues of fire chatter and raven the last of the village
a scorched well and a rubble hearth mute witnesses
as they cross the river where flames won’t follow

the child soldier has painted the mountainous curve
of the elephant’s back
with the wild unblinking eyes of a goddess
to ward off dangers they cannot see
when they must close their own and rest
the dark hush of leaves soothes and shelters
their fitful bittersweet dreaming —

daylight comes keening like sharp birdsong through the canopy
already she can smell the beckoning salt of the ocean
that lapped at the brim of a brittle and fragmented sleep
when at last she and the child emerge from the trees
they find not a driftwood beach but a boneyard —
wrecked hulls, thwarts, ribs, and blood-leathered scraps of cloth
cast back by ocean currents and the gyre of tireless strife

standing at the edge of an impossible choice
they chance upon traces of a causeway the receding tide reveals
a necklace of limestone shoals strung between two lands
a relic of the old stories about a bridge built by monkeys
the elephant wades in with the child tenacious as a barnacle
they make their way from one sandbank to the next
to reach a shore where peace might still be found

Ayatollah in the Moon

on their last night before leaving
two sisters stand on the balcony
turning the burnished glow
of their young faces
to the fullness of the low-slung moon
where it’s said the Ornament of God
looks down upon the citizens
x-ray vision from his dried-barberry eyes
probes their minds for wayward thought
and whisper-thin traces of dissidence

do the girls see him
in that lunar countenance?
it shines on inhuman and distant
neither stirred nor tranquil
beyond the gravity
of earthly turmoil and delusions
still they will carry the story with them
to keep the shape of home intact
as they bear a suitcase precious as a holy ark
across the wilderness of space

the suitcase takes a place of reverence
in their new bedroom
beside the phonograph and stack of 45s
they open it behind closed doors
and unscroll their mother’s long silk scarf
faint attar of rose and smoke still readable
in its beloved folds
rocking heel to toe they leaf through snapshots
pronouncing names of faces and locations
so as not to forget or be forgotten

they sleep beneath the ruffled blue firmament
of the canopy bed whose wooden ribs
recall the inside of a boat overturned and beached
a filament of light piercing through a breach in the curtains
might be a streetlamp or a message
their mother sent on particles of moonbeam
she is safe and will come when the gates are open
there is a sound in the dark sky
like needles of ice snapping apart
a constellation stretched to its very limits
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