Friday, June 18, 2010

The Altar's Lesson

Playing with Agni

There is no controlling damage.

The twigs won’t ignite
in high winds, with heavy rain coming.
Dry straw added, and the sticks catch,
a modest conflagration, sacrament only
of all-destroying flame. And then the chamber
proves no empty vessel after all;
the aspiration to save
all sentient life from destruction
only a naive wish. One ant, disoriented,
circumambulates the flames,
then more begin to swarm,
freighting eggs from a crack between the bricks.

I abort the fire,
scatter the faggots,
keen to save the colony. Feel relief
when the tiny panic subsides. Wonder
at my treason against whatever god I’m welcoming,
but move the smoking brands
away from the nest, burning my hand,
which smarts now as I write.
I’ve usurped this womb, claimed it half-heartedly
for a god of fire only to relent; carry the stigma
of a scorched palm for my temerity,
punishment at once from the goddess I have refused
in the end to evict and the god I have refused
the price of untrammeled entry.

What was I thinking? A safe fire,
a purification of mere emptyness,
a discount holocaust?
A place of fecund chaos
scoured clean of the disorder of life in full spate?

is my split allegiance, then:
to fire that blazes up only to be scattered
before it has consumed all;
to seed that falls into the earth and dies.

Copyright David Townsend 2010. All rights reserved.

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