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Myrhh, and the Sun
in the smoke
Myrhh burning, golden like
raisins, shriveled up,
drying on long, twiggy stems
on the racks.
Myrhh smoke, pale thin circling lines
penciled in dots
Sun on the grey and the sap-gold
turning it bright.
Turning from there, from the myrhh, going to the door
way out, standing, one hand leant
on the empty ledge, looking out
on the empty city. There used to be people here
there were always people here,
flocks on the hills, stupid and stinking,
grapevines strung up on their poles
raisins drying in their sheds
the check-pattern of bricks letting the wind through.
The raisins that are left still dry and are
pecked by sparrows, who dart in
unafraid anymore of men,
unknowing of dogs
chirruping certain they will not be chased off.
The raisins that are left are dried so dark now,
so dark on their vines that they curl in on themselves
tiny black-brown bugs, the water gone out of them
the buds of their seeds pushed tight against the grapeskin
the grapeskin shrivelled a maze of wrinkles in on itself.
Some hang tight to the vine, some
fall willingly off
at the slightest touch, fall
into the beaks of sparrows or
to the floor for the mice and ants to find.
The land around the sheds is as it ever was
yellow, dry, pale
Dry in the winter, with white-skinned aspens growing reluctantly up out of it
dry in the summer, with green flecks of fallen or dropping grass
dry in the fall, when the weather cools and the leaves grow old-green
a used color.
There were people here. They built the drying sheds.
They grew the grapes. They held the flocks.
They planted the grown-wild gardens, and buried their dead under those long, coffin-shaped stones.
When the cities went, it was chaos. But didn’t hear of it
the powerlines to out here were first to go
the wind-farms that turned their slow sails in the mountains
stopped their revolving, one by one
the white giants going silent and still
some breaking down
as no one came to repair them, they gave up
hope that they might ever
The big cities—those were the places not to be
they ran out of food first
the people running, hiding out in the farms
taking their cars and driving out as far as they could
and when it reached them the cars breaking down in the roads.
The apartments are long clean. The cities stank for a few days, but
now, if went, would find
the apartments nice, tidy, empty
ruffled, sure, by the speed and shuffle of grabbed property,
mussed by the sudden disappearance of quick-snatched valuables
but, on the whole, mostly as they had been when it came over them.
Out here, life continued. The city
had never done them nothing. It had tried—when there were people, they’d come out here
in their trains and administrated; they’d set up great, blocky buildings,
edifices like thrones and palaces
heavy, huge boxes full of civil servants,
presided over by a beneficent statue of poured bronze.
Having no farms, no land, nowhere to go, when it came, the cities
Out here, people lived further apart.
When it came, it was not so sudden.
A family here, a family there.
One would not come back from herding the flocks.
Another would go to pull carrots for the pilaf
and would not return by the time the grease had heated.
A busful, with cameras, backpacks, hiking shoes, sunglasses
stopped in a waspy parkinglot.
It came over them, and then,
after a long, low sound
for was there not wind? and the rustling of leaves in the trees?
and the sun on the parching earth, and the buzzing of wasps on new meat?
Now the warm rays beat down on the red mountains
they brighten the pearly grey stream where people once hunted jade.
They throw long shadows under the yellow cliff of melted mudbrick buildings
houses a thousand years ago, a thriving city of seven thousand
still and crumbling these past five hundred
silent now except for the wind.