Perihelion: An Online Journal of Poetry and Mayhem
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Stephen Edgar

Steppe

Where are we? It is not yet dawn. Imagine
A woman standing, on the steppe, we’ll say—
A vast and treeless flat expanse extending

In all directions from the centre which,
Simply by being there, she constitutes,
Out to the inconceivable horizon.

She waits. Or you wait. Or imagine waiting:
Just this impersonal passage, not yet time.
Now something happens, like a sound—the crack

That shivers through a still ceramic jar
In some far chamber of an empty palace.
And so the sun inscribes the invented east

With its jawline of light. The frozen grass,
A billion broken filaments, takes flame
And thaws. The chlorophyll awakes to green.

Crickets, in ones and twos, then everywhere,
Remind each other that they are, and play
Their crotal haiku back and forth. The birds

Like tuning instruments take up their trills
And scraps of melody. The whitening sky
Advances like a tide—but not the hours.

An occupying force, the dreadful hours
Of daylight take the morning by surprise
And hold it on their unconditional terms.

She stands quite still. After the first assault,
How unimaginably the weighted sun
Labours like Sisyphus to climb the sky.

She stands quite still. Is she alive? How large
Is she? In this great space there is no scale
To measure by or make comparison.

How long can you keep watch, how long maintain
Your concentration, your belief in this?
At long last midday draws her shadow in.

 

And with a dancer’s grace she bends and dips
A loop of string into a bowl of water
Placed at her feet and lifts it to her lips

And with a single brief pursed expiration
Blows one small bubble. Such histories drain around
That wet inflation, such prodigious pictures

Shine in those walls. The wobbling rainbowed sphere
Hangs faintly on the superscripted air
Five seconds and is gone. Her shadow slides

Free of her figure once again, the sun
Resumes those wide, almost immobile hours,
Whose dimming slowly seeps like shallow water

Around her naked feet. The rising chill
Crisps in the grass its instant brittle slivers.
She stands quite still. You think you cannot bear

To think this through. At last the light slips down
The western curvature, tugging the night’s
Star-tattered curtain after it, and sweeps

Her profile one last time, and you go dark.