Caught by the River

Sterna: a poem by Jelle Cauwenberghs

Jelle Cauwenberghs | 20th May 2017

The wall is a silent witness.
The wall is an altar and an anvil.
Claw hammer.
Sea chisel. Skull cap. Sooty nail.
The wall bristles, blooms like
a fever dream, say a Santa Cruz
beehive cactus.
Cries pigment. Cries keratin.
A strangled hosanna from the red book
of revolutions,
morgenstern planted
in the carapace of some ancient ant eater.
I beg you.

The wall is a bed of delicious agony,
the toolbox of a patient torturer,
the long wait for a sunset that never dawns,
the silver eel of receding light,
a storm tossed orchid palmed
by a witch’s oven
seared hand, petals swept up with a broom
and glued to the wall.

Le rouge et le noir.
Peau de renard. Plume de corbeau.

Their calendar is a tense line.
Past. Present. Future.
Risk and reward.
Years can plummet like javelins.
Years can be whittled down,
but this remains.
In spite of the broken feathers,
the worn-out heart
behind the keel of breastbone.
A snarl, a tickle,
an inlet from another dimension.

The wall is a hissing fossil,
each bill
a splinter from a disjointed body
suspended in ecstasy,
not exactly spreadeagled, but stern
and insistent.
We do not ask for salvation.

You pull a black beak from your purse,
curved like a raptor claw, strangely
alive is not the word for what it is.
You admonish me
to be more specific.

B is for beak.
An ebony ice pick used
for eating and grooming,
for manipulation and love,
for killing prey,
for fighting, probing,
for courtship and
for feeding the young; for
the slow leaf fall
of trial and error
like hair and nails, growing long
after the purple bruises of skin and memory
have faded, have marbled
malignant green

and nothing is left but
the sheepskin of a spent hurricane.

Doesn’t that sound like a life,

Isn’t that the magnetic field of all
pain and pleasure,
the ultimate polarity?

Aren’t we, like them, fatally drawn
to the antipode of free agency, the unconditional
surrender to our senses?

A single nasal rasp calls out
‘Le coeur s’en va,’ but here is the mountain
of days, the wailing wall,
the white horizon.

We kneel.
We kiss brick and ask of the earth,
let us be great, but not impossibly great,
not impossibly far.

Our lips are scarlet veal on the butcher’s slab,
berryblack wine in our lover’s lap,
and so, it seems,
are theirs, wind
cleavers animated by tiny blood
roses of departure and desire
and delicate mutilation.

Inspired by ‘Life Span’ by Yulia Kovanova


Jelle Cauwenberghs on Caught by the River