It would otherwise not have been the oaks
In their flat field of shadow
With neon stars between their arches
Blinking. Everyone was alive
Then, in their various guises, even as fewer
Of us feasted at the table, and the figures
Moving through burgundy rooms in
The film we remembered
Grew more gaunt and porous. Mostly
We dealt with languages
Of arson and gnostic graffiti.
Tickets bought, and lost. A perpetual
Lumbering wind shredded
The leaves up there. The text you sent
Responded to excised scenes
We hoped to reimagine within warmer
And deader climates. Salt fugues
For gods and angels. Otherwise, the ghosts
Of us had left, a dab of violet
Oil on the meat of our tongues.
Voices God withdrew from us.
From which even the tunnels would appear, bricks frozen within earth-worn terrains, the hazy pink light at either end with its feathery poison, teeming impossible pathways, the echo of them and those shifting, the amazed dead light, the amazed dead steel striking across into the stranger’s subterranean stagecraft, the roots buckling through, towards us, the long sheer lengths of velvet, fingers coated with cake, black leaves dripping black wax, flowers of cold echo in our oratory, the languages of our mineral planet speaking through us in our effervescent tongues, fungal and bacterial, radial and radiating, this stranger’s stranger approaching, metallurgic corpse songs from which even tunnels emerge
And this too, with its floral and wilted suffering, its marrow scorched, its desert red and windless, its ankles sunburnt, its roads bleached, its caverns webbed with ice and tar, its minerals of spare florescence, this too, with its midnight sun, its velvet irises drying in tubercular tunnels, even as we turned into them, and they outnumbered and out-whispered us, and as those who had been us split into flashes of their own forensic light
Buttered toast with blackened edges
And coffee that tastes like scoured
Earth. I traced my faint
Path along the highway with my jacket
Up, rain tracing a dome
Of renegade clatter over the branches and mute
Traffic. Headlights in the all-hour evening.
This vast window of anonymous
Winter. The masks they wear behind
Hotel room doors, and the animals they hid
In bronze cages, fur electric
In the overheated dark. Myself
And the highway as darkness
Accumulates in the long drifts of cold.
Breath breathing. Cake with teeth marks and tea
Red as pomegranate.
James Pate is a poet and fiction writer. His books include The Fassbinder Diaries (Civil Coping Mechanisms), Flowers Among the Carrion: Essays on the Gothic in Contemporary Poetry (Action Books Salvo Series), and Speed of Life (Fahrenheit Press). He teaches creative writing at Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, WV.