Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax
  jeff winter

When your arms become so light that they are heavy
and your head becomes so light that its weight
threatens to pull your bent spine to its snapping point:
That is when they will bring in the water.

One man on each side of a cast-iron cauldron,
its belly scraping the floor, still hot from the fire;
they will place it before you and jerk your face up.
You will blink at the bodies in the steam.

The pebble drops in. The surface behaves as if
it had been hundreds, so you cannot determine
the point at which it entered. The scalding chaos
beneath, the maelstrom, possesses it now.

Now you have a choice: Do not wait for them to seize
your wrist and elbow from the rags and send your hand
in after the token, to set your darkened brain
afire, to ignite this, your crucible.

Muster all the passion that remains inside you
and plunge in alone, your fingers scrambling, dancing,
shedding flesh like filthy garments. Find the small hard
heart in the white light, then hold it aloft.

What follows is beyond your control. Go to sleep.
Let these fools chart the progress of your ravaged hand,
count the blisters and shreds, note the colors, odors.
Let these fools mistake your skin for your soul.

You will have seen it shine in the steam-bright, curved bones,
wrapped like a cage of ribs around a wet pebble.