17 February 2007

The Face of the Lion -- Loren Eiseley

The moth-eaten lion with shoe-button eyes
is lumpy by modern standards
                                                and his mane
scarcely restorable.
                              I held him in my arms
                                                  when I was small.
I held him when my parents quarreled
as they did often while
                                     I shrank away.
                                     My beast has come
down the long traverse of such years and travel
                                                                 as have left outworn or lost
beds slept in, women loved, hall clocks that struck
                                               wrong hours,
in years forgotten, notes, lovers' quarrels, dear God
                                                           where go
our living hours,
                           upon what windy ash heaps are they kept?
Down what sepulchral chambers must we creep
who seek the past?
                                   I who have dug through bones
and broken skulls and shards
                                      into the farther deeps
such efforts now.
                             I cannot practice
         the terrible archaeology of the brain
                                                     nor plumb
one simple childhood thought. I want no light to shine
        into those depths forever
                                                  but the lion
sits on the shelf above my desk
                                                   and I,
                                                   near-sighted now,
take comfort that he looks
                                   forthright and bold
                                           as when
my hands were small,
                                   as when
my brain received him living,
                                   something kind
                                   where little kindness was.

The mirror tells me that my hair is grey
but the wild animist within my heart
refuses to acknowledge him a toy
given by someone long ago
No, no, the lion lives
                                and watches me
as I do him.
                      Should I forget
the hours in the blizzard dark,
                                                the tears
spilled silent while I clutched his mane?
He is very quiet there upon the shelf,
as I am here, but we were silent
                                                 even then,
past words,
                   past time.
                                   We waited for the light
and fell asleep when no light ever came.

                                                     I do not
delude myself.
                        The lion's face is slowly changing
               into the face of death
                   but when I lie down
                                            upon my pillow
                                                      in the final hour
I shall lie quietly and clutch
                              the remnants of his mane.
                                                        It happens we have known
a greater dark together
                                                 he and I.
I am not terrified
                           if he has come
                                          wearing another guise.
To him the watcher I will trust my sleep,
                               shoe-button eyes, the lion on the shelf.

Labels: , ,