23 July 2017

The Turning of Years [Edited]

Introduction: I am not sure if the current title of this poem is wholly adequate, but I consider it an improvement on my previous one: "Untitled Poem about Rabbits.” I don’t want to mislead anyone on either the inspiration or the subject matter—it is mainly about rabbits, and the overarching master-mythology is drawn from Richard Adams’s 1972 novel Watership Down.  But that is not my only source—I have drawn from almost everything I know about rabbits. The importance of the number four in Part III is drawn once again from Adams's mythology which claims that rabbits are unable to count to any number larger than four. Interestingly, the Rabbit is the fourth symbol on the Chinese zodiac, because, according to legend, he was the fourth animal to cross the river in the Jade Emperor's race (I suspect the association was intentional). The opening stanza in Part III is the rabbit's attempt at articulating that there were twelve animals at the river. 


I.                   The Cave

You know El-ahrairah, children:
He was born in the dark too, like us
In the Earth-womb, where all our children are born,
He sucked the same Earth-milk and played
Under the same shadowlight
           Within these very walls;
Within this very cave.
Look! Children, there he is,
He plays across the wall. Do not touch, boys and girls,
He is only a shadow. But he was real. Is. Will be. Watch.
He lived in the light, in the morning of the world.
He lived with the badger, the fox, and the deer
And who made them? That’s right. Frith made them.

And who is Frith? Hush now, one at a time—
Raise your paw, Buttercup, or you won’t be called on
Now, all together please:

Frith is the light who hangs in the sky
He made the meadows, the flowers, you, and I
He sleeps after dusk, he wakes at the dawn
But even at night, Frith is not gone!

He appoints a star to govern the night
She watches his children until it is light
Until the break of day, when the shadows flee away
And the children of Frith come out to play

What is he like? Let me think, what is he like?
Well, for one thing, he warms the earth. He makes the flowers
What are flowers? Oh dear, I’m explaining it very badly
One day, when you are older, you will see him for yourself
For now, imagine him like yonder shadowlight.
See how I make El-ahrairah play across the wall?
Well, in the same way Frith makes us.
When you are older.

II.                The Garden

What is Real? Asked the Rabbit one day.
Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens
            To you.
Does it hurt? Asked the Rabbit.
It doesn’t happen all at once. You
Once you are real you can’t be ugly.

I came over the hill, Prince
I called out, “Where art thou?
For I have come to bless thee.”
But thou wast hiding
Yes, thou wast hiding in the garden
Because thou wast ashamed.

Dost thou find my mercy unfair
When thou said "My punishment is too great to bear"?
Who has now the greater punishment
When the vast assembly of thy descendants
Parade in denouncement of my judiciousness?
Therefore renounce all hope for a memory gilded in dignity
And run.

All the world will be thy enemy,
Prince with a thousand enemies
And whenever they catch you, they will kill you.
            But first
They must catch you,
Prince with the swift warning.
Be cunning, and your people will never be destroyed.

Between the tree trunks
The wild rabbits danced
With their shadows on the velvet grass
(Digger, listener, runner)
Smooth, slender, black velvet and red
(Digger, listener, runner)
They danced with their shadows
In the glade between the tree trunks.
There are many shapes
Which are not yet shapes
In the morning of the world.
But if you catch them, they may grant you wishes.
They are sound, heat, energy, and light
They are becoming.

“Who has made thy shadow, Prince?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?”
What is Real?

III.             The River

Pad pad pad pad
We were four: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit
Thump thump thump thump
They were four: dragon, snake, horse, goat
Click click click click
They were four: monkey, rooster, dog, pig
Pad, thump, click: we were many.
He called us all to the river.

I am not strong like the ox
Nor am I sly like the snake
Or sleek like the horse
But I
Between the tiger’s wake and the dragon’s
What other choice did I have?
As the lilies bend towards the light
Or water navigates through cracked mud
I was determined.

Yes, yes, the rat was clever, or so they say
But he was no artist. Who among the many
Was like I? Let him speak—‘tis charity to show.
While they crossed the river like common beasts
I fashioned for myself a vessel, as a man would.
Again I say: Who among the many was like I?

The Heavenly Gates, I did what I always am: I ran.
Do not wonder
How I came to be what I am always not: stopped.
Children, I stopped. I did not intend to stop, but
I saw him.
The morning star, the emperor jade
Who saw me as only the emperor sees: first.
Ihr St├╝rzt nieder, Millionen? Said he
(Which, in our tongue, means hrairah)
And I was very frightened.

I am old now and prefer the old comfort of the dark
Happy to die in the dust I was formed in
But you, children, are getting too big for earth
            to hold you
Soon she will thrust you through this crust and deliver you
Into that shimmering world
Yes it will hurt. Did I not tell you it will hurt?
Choose a path. There is no other path.
Until the cool of day when the shadows flee away
The woods will all be still – a new year’s on the way.

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