Eric Pankey

THE TENDED FIRE

 
A mantle of ash mutes the fire,
The source fire they feed
And bank, tend as if a newborn.
A lamp of rendered horse grease,
Its pounded wick of birch bark,
Shadows and reveals a reindeer
Incised on a reindeer shoulder blade.

By dusk a herd fords the meander,
Heads and antlers above water,
Then thunders beyond the alluvial plain
To summer pastures. Unfed, the fire
Would die. So they coax and coo,
Sing to it, offer it straw,
Willow branches, whatever burns.
 
 

HERMETICA

 
A thrown sickle cuts the final sheave.

For a son, bury a stone of black blood.
For a daughter, plait barley, oats, and wheat.

Better the moon’s ox-horn crescent than elk
Or bear bones when fashioning a warp-weighted loom.

All things are separated by fire.

The dregs and dross, heavier, settle
While spirits rise, disperse.

To mark swept areas, singe the broom tip.
 
 

DROPPED STITCHES

 
I learned first
.                    not to touch fire.
Only then to court it.

.                    : :

The fig’s autumnal black,
.                                     split open,
Reveals a raw red glare.

.                    : :

I squint my eyes
.                        and the light spikes
Like rain frozen on a horse’s mane.

.                    : :

Between the green
.                           and the ripening,
An epoch passes.

.                    : :

I loved her,
.                no doubt,
But not, alas, without a doubt.

.                    : :

Like viper venom—
.                              no—
Like tragedy fed on wolf’s milk.



 
 

CARAVAGGIO’S SEVERED HEADS


The work is hard and messy:
.                                           Judith has rolled up her sleeves.
Salome balances the shallow bronze platter
Out from her body so as not to spill.
The boy, David, holds the giant’s head at arm’s length
Not up high in triumph,
.                                    but at safe distance.

How uncanny the reciprocity of the gaze
— The effects of light arranged to provoke—
When viscous shadows conceal
.                                             all not illuminated.

Medusa’s curdled blood, it’s said, hardens to red coral.

It’s said the executioner would extort a fee
From the condemned with a promise
To fit the tongue back into the mouth
And close the eyes after death.

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