Thursday Poem

World Greater Than We Make

—ruin: total destruction or disintegration
rendering something formless, useless, or
valueless. -American Heritage Dictionary

The ruin I'm thinking of spilled down the entire hillside,
blocks of stone like dice shaken in the cup of the sky.
A place that invites whispering or song. Darkly inviting
as the slaughterhouse collapsed beside a lonely road.
Crazed china, the lightning-bolt symmetry of cracks.
A ruin is the bones of a thing slowly exposed by time,
wind, water. The fin of an old Caddy rusting in a circle
of trees on a high ridge. The ribs of a boat
rocking on sand. Colors only waiting can paint.
All gashes are old gashes. No blood.

I wander Manaus, city of perpetual ruin,
where the walls grew new layers all by themselves,
where a man sits writing a novel neither of us knows
I will translate eight years later. I am alone
and inexplicably happy. I lean back off the curb
into traffic to fill my eyes with the grand,
decayed facade, spindly papaya trees
at attention in second story windows.
I bend to the gutter for a chip of tile, twirl it
under my chin like a buttercup: it says
I love this accident.

The dictionary is dead (and it was a good one): the ruin
is spilling still. The farthest thing from worthless,
it is a sadness made beautiful over time—or is it beauty
mad sad? A silent clash of meanings we can
picnic in. We say a lot about ourselves
with the buildings we build, but their ruins speak
with other than human voices. See how ruins gladly
join earth and sky, how the natural world bends down, creeps in,
to meet them. More fools we, to preserve or construct
the stone and wood we borrow, instead of simply watching
as gorgeous chaos slowly gathers back its own.
by Ellen Doré Watson
from We Live in Bodies
Alice James Books, 1997