(1) Provisions for a journey into the unsaid: 1: anchor. 1: seal of the empire.
1: ink-blotter. 1: a california tiger lily. 1: terrence in his sister’s Sunday dress.
1: tin of salt. 1: tin of sardines. a good deal of: absence.
(2) Imagine a world where the Bible did not read, ‘Let there be light,’ but
‘Suppose there is light.’ Plowing a field, painting a water-color, sitting on the
porch to read at dusk; each would be as tender as grace and just as fleet-
ing, like talking with a relative who might die any day.
(3) I said, “Aixma if you could have any horse, what horse would you
keep?” And she said, “I don’t want nothing fancy. Just give me an old plow
horse, so I can teach my girls to sit in the saddle and handle the reins.” I
could see behind her the first streaks of morning, the sky, drunk with yester-
day’s rain. We were silent a while. And I said, “Aixma, it is time to rise and
tend our house. Today your sister will be buried.”
(4) I went down to the river, just before dawn. The new dead, their faces
painted white and their bodies still naked and clean, were laid out in rows,
the men-folk with the men, and the women with the women.
And I saw Aixma’s sister, Isa. Her hair was back behind her ears, her face
so pale and small, I thought I might swallow it in the palm of my hand. She
had a scrap of paper, an old prayer, in her pocket: “Rise now, and walk
into the light.
(5) At dawn, the waters split. And Charon rose from the breach, robed all
in music. He was as tall as my hand and just as fat, but his voice was like a
carnival barker’s: silence fled before him, beaten at every point.
(6) “I showed him the seal of the empire; all my store of salt; even the
absence I kept, just in case, in my sack. But he was not impressed. “From
here, Lady,” he said, “We journey out into the unsaid.” And she said,
“Goodbye John! Goodbye Mary! Goodbye Grace! Goodbye Canalou!
Goodbye sleep! Goodbye light! Goodbye juniper! Goodbye lightning-bug!
Goodbye meadowlark!” And when I turned to go home for breakfast she
was still counting off her goodbyes.”
Toby Altman is this and that: a poet with some little publications and some little awards: the usual. Born, Chicago: 1988. Lives, Well. Mostly in Philadelphia. These poems are drawn from a longer series of prose poems, “Asides.”