“Resting Child (Wishes Whispered from the Moon, Many Years Before the Storm)” by Bob Rich – This poem is a prequel to my previous poem “Song for the Moon”:
Child, there will come a day,
far from today,
in your adulthood,
after years of comfort and peace —
years of embraces and exchanged business cards and postcards sent from lavish hotels —
when you enter a gray and lifeless dungeon for three slow-motion years,
and the world will seem to have scattered like a flock of frightened doves.
You will feel for three years like an imprisoned ghost,
a jailed vapor,
and every flag you ever hoisted up into the air,
every warm, balm-like smile from each woman you ever saw,
and every sound that ever brought you pleasure or comfort —
the laugh of a happy child getting toweled dry after a day at the beach,
the melodic interplay of birds conversing outside on a Sunday morning,
the soft successive claps of a woman’s curved hard shoes walking upon an office floor,
the syncopated colors and baroque spatial patterns within your favorite songs —
will be gone,
and your one truth will be the damp crushing ice of your solitude,
as air is dragged like an excavated song from the caves of your lungs
and you are left in a cramped cell with a blue that burns so darkly
that it gradually smolders into a lifeless nocturnal tunnel of coal where you must live
as a man alone.
And in the dust-filled corridors of your underground coal mine,
you will realize that, for 34 years, a grand and stately ship
has tried to dock in your harbor,
but it never has finished its slow watery flight:
life has been mocking your yearnings for a decade three times repeated plus four.
Each time the ship arrives at night, in the welcoming waters of your harbor,
the ship, with its sleek curved body of smooth glass,
arrayed with multi-colored lights and with neon lines on every ridge —
where, inside the ship, a woman waits with her emerald necklace
and bright blue eyes outlined by shining traces that frame her eyes like jewels —
life, like a vicious archer, has sent three red feathery torpedoes, skidding and rocketing
across the surface of the water of your harbor,
to strike in three shattering sighs upon the fragile hull of the incoming ship,
causing the ship to fall into clusters of disintegrating waterfalls of colored glass
into the sea,
as the woman, wrapped in her silver sparkling dress,
reveals her wings and bounds up skyward out from the crumbling ship
and, flying to outer space, she drifts farther and farther away
until her dwindling silver light shrinks to the size of all the other stars
and she is lost like a silver needle in the glowing haystack of the night sky’s constellations.
Child, after these three solitary years have passed,
in wracked isolation during your adulthood,
you will enter a short final season when you must walk a long and punishing road
in the darkness alone.
Night upon night, twelve nights in all,
shadows will rule like tyrants each night, burying all life in the fury of chilling frostbite.
Your first walk down this night-time road
will be the longest and the coldest,
as you walk through the night beside jungles, forests, thickets,
all smothered in thick muddy shadows on either side of the road,
with animals stirring
— birds, coyotes, mountain lions? —
inside the density of the darkness,
in rapid rustlings of leaves and sudden snapping of branches.
Child, you must remember then,
on this first of your twelve journeys down this sorrowful road, when you are a man alone,
to look up into the night-time sky and to search for my white radiant face.
You will know then,
in the crushing pall of the ferocious night,
that I am more than your protector, your friend, your loyal companion:
in my blazing gown, standing up from my white throne,
my white scepter in the grip of my hand,
in the center of the dark sky,
I am your bright watchful soulmate.
You will not be destroyed.
Keep looking up at my face in hope,
find my torching white eyes,
eyes that have watched humanity for sixty centuries.
I have seen the toil, the sadness, the exhilaration of men and women
walking upon the seas of time.
And I see you in your awful night.
At my request, the stars would dive like flickering trapeze artists
from their posts in the night-time sky,
and they would plummet in curving white paths far down below to the waiting earth
to be at your side.
But, you will not need any star to join you tonight
if you stare deeply, strongly enough into the flooding glare of my white face.
Rise up, drink in my white light and be strong.
Then, whenever on this dark road you hear the trees or the jungle or the towering spiky brush stirring alongside the road
due to some menacing predatory creature inside,
look into the darkness at the exact location of the stirring —
not one degree to the left or to the right, but exactly at the hidden animal in the darkness —
and, from your eyes, give the simple message, “I belong.”
The animals will not touch you.
They will not stretch one claw, one feather toward you.
They will be silent and remain in the darkness.
In your eyes, they will see your place, and they might even see your sorrow,
so that, after you finally walk beyond their territory,
you might hear the brittle scratching of their claws dragging a weary path down the dry harsh bark of the trees
as they express solidarity with your sadness.
And, each night, on the remaining eleven journeys you make down this brutal road,
look up into the night-time sky and, find me. Find me, and, whenever you again hear the creatures in the night, stirring beside the road,
let them again see your eyes until they are silent.
Remember that, as the twelve nights go by, my fullness will slowly diminish,
and my shape will contract so that it is more and more slender,
folding into its own brightness,
until, by the eleventh night, I will have decreased to the sliver of a bright white crescent.
And, finally, on the twelfth night, I will be fully covered in darkness and you will not see me.
The twelfth night will be your hardest night.
So, on the eleventh night, when I am a high white cresecent, I will quickly illuminate a church for you
off to the side of the road,
and, in front of the church’s stained-glass doorway, you will see a deer, standing in the moonlight for three seconds, imprinting itself in grace upon your soul
before the deer runs off into the darkness of the surrounding trees.
Then, on your twelfth night down this terrible road,
you will feel within your soul something falling apart.
Within your soul: all your heroes will fall like a garden of statues rocked by a trembling earthquake
causing each stone statue to break apart into piles of rubble.
Within your soul: a hallway, filled with framed hung photographs of loved ones, will be visited by a sideways hailstorm of white and purple ice that will howl and quickly spiral through the hall
until the glass on every photograph is shattered and the surface of every picture has been sandblasted and all the faces have been reduced to vague blurs on the ghosts within each frame.
This will be your twelfth and last night on the road;
and, from all your time in the eleven nights before,staring into my face,
you will not need me to shine from the dark sky above
because my soft white light will be within you, and, though only the faintest stars light your way on this darkest night,
upon the night-time leaves and vines and branches my moonlight will shine —
not from me, but from you, my love.
The darkness within the trees will slightly brighten,
the moonlight from within your soul will drizzle like a soft rain of light upon the leaves,
and there will be enough light for you to travel to the dark and bitter end of your path.
And, by the end, you will search within yourself and see that your garden of many statues still has two and a half statues uncrumbled, with staffs firmly in their hands,
and, in your inner hallway, you will see that the storm of ice spared two and a half faces
on your many photographs of loved ones.
And, as you stagger to the end of your exhausted path,
you will finally collapse;
but, just before you land upon the hard and merciless ground,
a white chariot with wheels of blazing fire will catch you up as you remember from the night before the etching of the white light upon the deer outside the church,
still glowing within your dimly-lit soul,
and the pounding of your tired fists upon the walls of the cold cell of the night will cease, as you see the outline of the deer:
the emblem of my love for you.
* * *
(Painting by Morteza Katouzian, to be replaced in time by the artwork of Mairi Collender)