The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
8.2 (Spring 2008)
A Stone Map
Some borders are like stone walls,
Others are porous as the Rio Grande,
Or fluid as the coast where Morocco
Meets Ceuta; there swimmers smuggle
Goods & daily drown.
Along the Rio Orinoco, I met
The Venezuelan Army Captain
In charge of the border outpost;
We joined his troops in the mess hall,
Ate a stew of mystery meat
& jungle roots; I held
An Anaconda for pictures. The Captain,
Uncomfortable in English, offered
A toast to friendships among
Officers. Privately, we handled
Our words like unfamiliar gear.
I received a memento: Venezuela—
A map carved in stone—
Disputed boundary marked—Essequibo
Region, where Venezuelans patrol.
Jagged spear tip mounted on the map
To represent the Gran Sabana mountain,
Flecked with pyrite; fools gold. Farewells.
In gratitude, I sent a Civil War
Book of pictures, battle-maps of Manassas.
The economy later smoked out a president.
The new leader wears a red beret,
Befriends Fidel. Workers tighten oil spigots.
But border with Guyana-Brazil—Essequibo—
Remains peaceful solid as the stone map.
The lost orphan of the Holy Land & Balkans—
Peace—struggles with a “road map.” Opponents
Steal geography. African diamonds bleed. Wars
Chop limbs, bury mines, rub out lines in Darfur—
Between Sudan & Chad the desert landscape
Seeks vengeance; rebels cross disputed frontiers,
Redraw maps, carve ethnic & religious lines
In sand, ravage refugees. Maps seldom rest in stone.
Cartography cuts to the bone.
The work of mourning…
Bugles dead achievement…. –Geoffrey Hill
The body is an earthenware lamp.
The lamp’s flame has gone out.
The flesh turns again to clay
As dirt is tossed on the pine box.
To everything there is a season…
A time to die; a time to plant….
She left a yard of mangoes & avocados;
She moved to crepe myrtles & magnolias.
Cries in the night, loss, lamentations,
Anger, grief, love & grief returns again in
Waves on Key Biscayne, tides, ritual, wind
Stirring white caps, Old Testament & New.
She was a woman of needles & threads,
Helpful seamstress to neighbors, laboring
For daughter, learning late in her winter
Years of ancient Chinese tiles, creating
Gift bags for mah jongg players, new friends,
To hold their racks for bamboo & dragon tiles
& winds. She was born American in the Canal Zone
Where two oceans met in locks as cargo ships
& liners rose & fell. She was a mother in San Juan,
Moved to Miami to raise her daughter, touching
Greeks, Cubans & Jews, loving changing lives.
Hear the Spanish prayers; hear the Hebrew.
She is remembered by The Book of Wisdom,
Verses said from the Old Testament & New.
Her daughter bade farewell at Karla’s;
Farewell—with cafecitos Cubanos, sweet—
To Coral Way. No pallbearer, but Cuban waiters
In Black Tuxedos. No arroz con pollo, but tostones
With gray rice & black beans: Christians & Moors.
She died just after dawn, peaceful in her sleep.
After sending farewell signals across the miles
Back to Miami. At Olga’s bier—graveside—near an
Aerodrome, the sun rose in flames translucent
Pinks became a bright host, a wafer’s whiteness.
The daughter returned to her home, her rooms,
After the burial, to see a cardinal in flames outside
Her window—spiritual wings—a visitation. There is
A time for war & a time for peace. Her pain is no more.
Nor swelling; grief is deeper than her surgical wounds.
Pain in her flesh is no more. Love sustains the mourners
As we hear her soul sing, ascending on feathered wings.
Daughter flies higher than clouds, over Miami, over
Intense traffic, Hispanic streets to where heaven seems
Just over the horizon where ocean blues meet polar ice
& white caps blend in blue-greens old & new.
We pray the words of the Old Testament & the New.
O the cardinal flies red & hummingbirds miss her.
O the flesh grows old, cold as stone,
& dirt is our earth under stardust.
Her flesh is our flesh settling into our earth.
A Greek woman—unknown to her daughter—saw her
Obituary & phoned from Coral Gables. For years
She searched for Olga who once had helped her.
In Olga’s honor a votive candle burns in St. Sophia’s.
Michael H. Lythgoe (Lt. Col. USAF, Retired) is a frequent contributor to Praesidium and a member of The Center’s board. His chapbook of poems, Brass, was published in 2006 by the Poetry Society of South Carolina . Among many other endeavors for the arts, Mr. Lythgoe has interviewed dozens of the nation’s most celebrated poets and published these interviews in various outlets.