The dead of one abysm, shadows of one chasm,
of such depth, defined the highest measure
of your magnitude, Macchu Picchu,
your true, most all-consuming
death: From the quarried rocks,
from the scarlet turrets,
from the staggered stairways of the aqueducts,
you tumbled down as if into autumn
to a single death.
Today the hollow air no longer cries,
no longer acquainted with your feet of clay;
your pitchers that filtered the firmament
when the blades of a cloudburst flashed forth
are already forgotten,
and the mighty tree was swallowed
by fog, struck down by gusts.
Suddenly, from the highest summit, the hand
that it held up toppled
to the end of time.
You are gone now, spidery fingers, delicate
filaments, interwoven mesh;
all that you were has dropped away: customs, unraveled
syllables, masks of resplendent light.
But this permanence of stone and word,
this city, like a cup, was uplifted in the hands
of all—the quick, the dead, the silenced—sustained
by so much death, a wall: out of so much life, a hard blow
of stone petals: the sempiternal rose, the traveler’s abode,
this Andean breakwater of glacial colonies.
When the clay-colored hands
turned to clay; when the diminutive eyelids closed,
crammed with coarse walls, crowded with castles,
and when the whole of man lay ensnared in his crater,
exactitude remained there waving like a flag:
the high site of the dawn of humanity.
The loftiest vessel ever to contain the silence;
a life of stone after so many lives.
Stephen Massimilla is a poet, scholar, professor, and painter. His multi-genre volume Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Book Award, the National Indie Excellence Award, and others. Previous books include The Plague Doctorin His Hull-Shaped Hat (SFASU Press Prize), Forty Floors from Yesterday (the Bordighera/CUNY Prize), Later on Aiaia (the Grolier Prize), and a critical dissertation. He has recent work in hundreds of publications such as Agni, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Poet Lore, Poetry Daily, and The Southern Review. Massimilla holds an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia University and The New School. For more info: www.stephenmassimilla.com and www.cookingwiththemuse.com