As children, we listened to our father’s stories
in which we were the heroes,
setting out into the forest
to meet ourselves,
our own image, our own mage.
I think this is what the dying must seek
as they begin their Cheyne-Stokes breathing,
as if climbing the mount to Assisi,
lanterns lit with oil consecrated for the Transitus,
not the wheeling of a bright city
but Plate 96 from Birds of America,
the garrulousness of life stilled on the page.
I think this is what I seek on the soul’s journey,
through the forest, with my breadcrumbs,
to enter a thicket of something untouched and pristine,
not to be lathed with the cooked sugars of God’s nougat
or to be wracked into splendor as the saint was,
but to receive something to brave the unknown.
In Audubon’s plate, a perfect pair of Columbia Jays,
the male’s head elegantly arced toward his partner.
What if the point of the story was this:
to find some ideal and perfect listener,
a quixotic, hermetic king in the form of a bird
perched in a refugio of cold starlight?
The heart is a leprosarium, said the saint.
It giveth and taketh away,
the body gone limp,
the body a mass of gold coins
the color of aspens already changing
high in the mountains.
To us, the king reveals his splendor,
poised as he is to receive us
exactly as we are.