Susan Schultz

The Philosopher's Child

In the year of the snake, rivers
flowed circuitously to sea; desire
for revenge filled the populace
with an inverse longing for balance
at any cost, like a field of grasses 
that appeared only when the death
camps closed. Rabbits fled
the deadly suburbs, leaving only
a slight afterglow of gentleness;
theirs was an intermingled music 
of chaos and counterpoint.
A dog walked these last streets,
and his memory brought him back
to a gutted house, stranded
in the white heat of a late sun.
Tigers roamed the city; through
the jawless face of the Central
Bank, I saw an ox run away, past
the monkey's mad graffiti, his paintings
of a lake country where trees leaned 
waterward with maternal intent; 
a boar fell in love with this country
and longed to take his family there.
The rooster was not inclined 
to accept this outcome, wanting 
to riffle his feathers against 
a backdrop of rubble and waste, 
unaccustomed to color and the rainbow 
destiny of rain; so he sealed a pact
with the horse, whose legs carried
her through this antique city;
its gates were the wrecks of gas
stations, pumps standing like sentinels
over broken windows and abandoned cars.
Only the rat felt at home; his larder
was stocked with old butter, bread crusts,
curdled milk, and old asparagus heads;
the screams of children rang in his ears
like songs, earth warm with the residue 
of fires, and that absentee landlord, 
Sun, turned his dull eye elsewhere. 

Here one couldn't distinguish origin 
from end, history from the sublime
moment of its disappearance, slow
armageddon of artificial suns
and the sweet breath of dragons. 
These sent their radiance back 
to an imagined source, and their mouths
bloomed open like peonies. Horoscopes
told of a year of turmoil and strange
happiness, as of days past grief, the new
world opening to a redemptive clangor
of carnivals, now lodged at the city's edge,
where barkers and clowns called out. One
small child gave answer, waving from the burnished
frame of a burned out window, her tears 
a kind of reverence expressed as interrogative.