Signs

On every street, news of a death: often a child, often a girl, but even the old; even animals, stray or feathered or penned. It was the middle of the war; or several wars. No one can really remember now. All we know is that the angel of dark omens, whose name is interchangeable with others we can’t even speak, returns in the night to mark each door of the unfaithful with a sign. What sign? Some say the blood of an animal, some say a crescent nicked sharp into posts with the point of a curved fingernail. Plague and boils. Golf ball-sized hail that bends the good wheat and the crops of yellow corn. Waves of ice the winds push ashore, splintering with the sound of onrushing trains. But what does it mean to be unfaithful? The children go out to hunt for frogs or locusts in irrigation ditches. If their hunger is wrong, then are the well-fed merchants saints? Who are those men who fold their gold-ringed fingers and watch from their offices in the sky as buildings collapse? The waters turn red with blood or oil, the fish are dying or have died. Smoke and rubble from the factory, bones and garments of the dead. The flash of a hummingbird’s wings in a patch of herbed green is rare as the miracle of the Dark Madonna; she used to visit the poor in their hovels, bring her cool touch to their fevered aid. Night cloaks what comes, or returns. Who can explain the mud-smeared grass on the carved hems of the statue, buckled to its plinth? But we’ve lost count of the plagues. Remind me of stars. Every day, the cities shimmer with dust and heat. What falls, falls to the earth. Birds tumble out of the sky, still vaguely warm— as if they’d flown through a torch, as if a red welt flared out of their throats at the moment they perished.

 

In response to Morning Porch and Via Negativa: In the Hague (tanka).

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