The flame of a question:
how does one wake from the nightmare
when the nightmare was knitted from strands stolen
from your own epidermis? You cannot possibly understand
the weight of a nation straining, back breaking
underneath a sky that someone told you was no longer yours
to claim: how that sky becomes leaden and brackish when
someone steals its leash and turns its teeth on you.
How can an image become God? There are ancestors
of yours who have asked that same question when
confronted by the fetor of forty-thousand souls before them
all digested in the deep, bloated gut of a slave ship. How far you are removed
from their slow, burdened parade sodden with the misery of chains
and the phantasms of homes and lands fading from inside out, phantasms
forever weeping for their return! They knew – and I know – that
He started by pulling clay from an earthly womb and forming
the curve of a smile, the template of a frown;
the undergirding of love and limb with muscle and blood;
the throat flute though which pass breath, song, and praise;
and the skeleton upon which each suit of flesh hangs. It is from
that first image that we were extracted, multiplied, and then
divided – river, ocean, and continent wide – from each other. So tell me,
how do you reconcile ripping the jewels from your soul and then
throwing them before the feet of another chassis
constructed from the pith of mere clay
when your conscience and your God tells you that you cannot?
And answer me this: how does what you call a strip of film
slip from the reel and hang by its own tangled neck inside machinery
and not destroy itself on an altar of flames,
shrieking prayers made of its own spectrum-colored blood through a prism,
pleading to its God for one last act of mercy, one last act
of deliverance? That is both
my story and your story, though you have never felt
the edges of the pages slice through thigh and shoulder,
through calf and cheek: or bisect spine and carve
outrage into breast. Yet, you and I may not be
so far removed from each other. You think in film, so I will
speak in it, and I will tell you this:
you know the filmstrip of your livid and dusky ancestors.
It began with fire and drums; it ended with hollow, hungered oceans
and a dying light. Ours began with a gift of breath
and a sequestered garden: shall it end with a fist to the solar plexus,
the juncture of where heart and soul meet?
I tell you this not to sway you, but to help you
understand our collective acts of defiance: it is
revolution without sword, fight without fist. It is a clash of wills
between a boyish king drenched with the typical stench of arrogance and
a collection of believers with souls of tear-stained glass.
And it is not just a refusal to mold wayward worship of an ephemeral Caesar
out of our now-poisoned clay shrouds of flesh. There is also
the matter of how he paints the walls of his empire with blood –
our blood, slave blood, and even barbarian blood –
and builds his streets with our bones. How he flings our souls
as splattered tapestries against the walls of the
If you wish to say more to me,
I will not stop you. I only ask you to remember this:
for every night that these horsemen haunt you;
for every turned corner in a dream that yields a
hollow-eyed golden beast belching fire;
and, for every black locust with outstretched claws and jaws
aching for the flesh of your back,
there are many more gasps and screams uttered
from my own lips. The only difference is, my nightmares
© 2011 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written for the last Big Tent Poetry Monday Prompt, which was a doozy! We were given not only a Wordle, but an additional challenge of trying to incorporate one, two, or all three of some additional phrases given to us by Carolee Sherwood. And this is a first: I worked in not only all of the Wordle words, but included all three of the phrases. BONUS!
Anyway. This is also part of a series which includes letters back and forth between me and deceased, historical figures for a reason. This part of the series is a three-way poetry conversation between me, John of Patmos, and Nero. I hope you enjoyed reading this one.