Robert Bringhurst


Ahuachapán, El Salvador, 1969-1974

There is a nothing like the razor
edge of air, another

like the tongued pebbles, syllables
of sea-wind and sea-color and

another and another like the salt
hide drying inward, eating

in through the underbelly of the bone,
the grain

of the sea-eaten iron, and the open
lattice of the wave.

There is the nothing, moreover,
at which Eurytos never
quite arrives, tallying 
the dust with the four-finger
unsheathed from the flesh of his hand.

Suppose, therefore, a certain
concretion of order,
unstable or at any rate in motion, but a certain
concretion of order inherent in one 
of the innumerable
forms of such a number. Therefore:

darkness under the sunrise,
darkness in the hollow of the hand;

inside the spine the darkness, the darkness
simmering in the glands;

the rumpled blade of darkness that is 
lodged in every fissure of the brain;

the membrane
of the darkness that is always

between two surfaces when they close.

The bird is the color of gunmetal
in sunlight, but it is midnight;
the bird the color of gunmetal
in sunlight is flying
under the moon.

There is a point at which
meridians are knotted
into nothing and a region
into which meridians fray and intertwine,
but not like mooring lines; they
fray like the leading and trailing edges
of wings, running from nothingness
to muscle and strung from muscle back again.

Listen: the sounds are the sounds of meridians
trilling, meridians drawn to produce
the illusion of plectrum, tuning pegs and a frame,
or perhaps to produce Elijah’s
audition: the hide
of the silence curing,
tightening into the wind.

Or the sounds are the sounds of air opening
up over the beak and closing over the vane,
opening over the unmoving cargo slung
between the spine and the talon,
slung between the wingbone and the brain.

It is for nothing, yes,
this manicuring, barbering, this
shaving of the blade.

Nothing: that is that the edge should come
to nothing as continuously
and cleanly and completely as it can.

And the instruction
is given, therefore,
to the archer, sharpening 

the blood and straightening 
the vein: the same instruction
that is given to the harper:

Strum the muscle.

And come to nothing.

Consider the magnetism of bone,
the blood-magnetic
flashfield eddying in
and out of the marrow
under the blood-flux in the vein.

The apple is the palpable
aura and hysteresis
of the seed, the tissue is 
a proof of the polarity and necessary
coldness of the bone.

In the high West there is everything
it is that the high West consists of,
named animals and unnamed birds,

mountain water, mountain trees
and mosses, and the marrow of the air
inside its luminous blue bone.
And the light that lies just under darkness,

grazing the ice
that is sea-rose under the sunset, and sea-green
and sea-deep under the snow’s froth. Under
the still white water the sudden
fissure in the wave.

Measure from the surface,
measure from the light’s edge
to the surface of the darkness, measure
from the light’s edge to the sound.

My Connecticut uncle stares into his manicured
thumbnail, thinking of his Riviera uncle’s
smoked-glass monocle. A one-eyed sun-goggle,
halfway useful in the lethal roselight. Notice
nevertheless it seems light drills
up the nerve backward, welling underneath
the retina and altering the eye’s aim. Notice
that the colored cores of the air lurch up
the ear, blue-gold and maroon against the blind drum.
Notice in addition the others at this intersection:
this one who is talking, this one who is standing
in the shoes of the man who is wearing them and sitting,
this one with, undeniably, a knife in his hand,
this one, this one saying nothing . . . .

Empedokles says the talon
is the crystallization
of the tendon, the nail is the wintered nerve.
Or the antler is the arrowhead
of the arrow threading the axeheads of the spine.

The Aristotelian then
wonders whether leather stands
in similar relation
to the muscle, and if sunlight might
be said to shed the darkness back of the stone.

The mules the angels ride come slowly down
the blazing passes, over the high scree
and the relict ice, though the lichen-splattered
boulders and the stunted timber. Slowly

but as noiselessly as is 
proper to the progeny of sea-mares
and celestial asses. Down
though the gentian and the peppergrass, down
through the understory dark

between these trees, down through the recurved waves
and into unlightable water. The mules 
the angels ride go to summer pasture
somewhere on the seafloor or still deeper.

Chitin and calcareous accretions
no longer clothe me. Meat
has eaten the fossil;
the body is no longer able
to moult the bone.

Or as the field notes show for August:
the squid has swallowed the quill; the animal
has successfully attempted
to incarcerate the cage.

The bud of light before the sunrise
mated with the dusk,
bore rock and jagged water,
mated with the water, bore
the tidal bore, the overfall, the spindrift and the mist.

The starlight seeded earth and mist and water,
germinating slime.
Slime ate into the rocksalt and the darkness,
the seacrust and the metamorphic stone, breeding
nail and nervecord, bone marrow, molar and 

bones taking root in the darknesses
and darknesses
flowering out of the bone.
Gods and men and goddesses
and ghosts are grown out of this,

brothers of the bark and the heartwood and the thorn,
brothers of the gull and the staghorn coral,
brothers of the streptococcus,
the spirochete, the tiger, the albatross, the sea-spider,
cousins of lime and nitrogen and rain.

In the blood’s alluvium 
there are alphabets: feldspars and ores,
silt-jamming the mouths, the sea’s weight
or the white magmatic fire 
is required to read the spoor:

the thumbprint on the air, the soul’s print
beached on the foreshore under the slag,
the spine-tracks and excavations
of sea urchins
climbing the high crags.

These, therefore, are the four 
ages of man:
pitch-black, blood-color, piss-color, colorless.

After the season of iron the season
of concrete and tungsten alloy and plastic,
and after the season of concrete the season
of horn, born in the black October,

hooves and feathers hooves and feathers
shudder past the tusks
and navigate back between the horns.