For those who know, the road to paradise
is as short as the distance
between two breaths . . .
Who said that? He murmurs it
again in the voice of the sententious
old fart who taught him Nahuatl
& catches himself, repeats it
in Arabic, then in his mother’s Manding,
his gaze lost in the ceiling’s
contest of lights.
From somewhere in the next room
a wash of sun: by the lack of color
close to noon, he guesses.
A slow-burning log throws up
an intermittent flame–figures
of the moment stretching
grotesque tangles of arms & legs,
the ambient light turned shadow,
a sudden ground.
Dear Mother, I am beginning
to distrust these reports about
the Seven Cities. I am wearing doubt
like a vulture’s ruff of feathers
at the base of its naked red neck.
Down along the desert coastline
all the people dressed that way,
but here they are modest in cotton–
master spinners. In either case,
they treat me well. I’m
no longer so good at sleeping
directly on the ground.
He half-rises on the reed mat
to examine the form at his side,
count the even swells that make
her breasts rock gently at anchor.
What new worlds might be unfolding
beneath those eyelids? He peers
more closely, as if (despite
the obvious glow of health)
to diagnose. Watches how
her lashes flutter, pulsing:
a walker’s rhythm. By this
& the breath count he divines
a heavy load, or perhaps
a steepening path.
The number of breaths between pauses
grows steadily shorter: 49, then 42,
34, 25, 13.
Ah, what patterns–what science his far-
off step-father could’ve
teased from such an accounting!
For this is one hole in his knowledge
Esteban regrets: the art of seeing
He’d been too young, resented
the endless restrictions imposed
by inauspiciously numbered days
& hours. Now he wonders
if the omen-reading, the numerology
hadn’t had something to do with
the insight that the world itself
(To be continued.)