The men sift the ash of an incinerated mansion
For the clink of coin or cufflink,
Some remnant in the wreckage
One might don or exchange once more.
Gold embers of dandelion
Are dimmed as the slow breeze spreads
Soot along the block, to porches, sills,
The soft gray clovers of cats’ paws.
My face in the window is a silhouette,
Gently weathered with sunset,
The moldings on each side charcoaled,
Cinders and ash on every corner.
My broad oaken desk is dark like a lost
King’s blade-scored, beer-soaked table at the head
Of a candled mead hall in winter hills.
My hair is a hammered golden helmet,
My shirt, a bright shower of silver mail.
I tilt the glass back. The cubes
Throw out a bronze flare and clink.
The cigarette smoke rises and trembles
From the last of a burned village.
My cats stalk the shadowed corners
Of the room like slow, muscular cougars
On the snow-conquered walls of a ruin.
We crossed the great bridge in our old white car,
Passed motels, liquor stores, to an altered earth,
Rich petri of suburb, stations of waterlogged light,
Visine splash of fluorescence on wet tar,
Ceaseless orbit of moths, endless ghost and birth.
Nothing stays still in the strange, airless night.
Each visit, it’s changed again. KB Toys
Is now Home Depot; tangled woods, where we sought
Stray cats, swallowed by Office Max, K-Mart, Costco,
The half-shingled shack we passed as boys
Long since drowned in growing asphalt. We fought
Dragons, trekked forest paths, and wound up lost.
It’s all forced now, prefab, and brand-new here,
Each severe angle aimed to disappear.
ERNEST HILBERT’s debut collection Sixty Sonnets (2009) was described by X.J. Kennedy as “maybe the most arresting sequence we have had since John Berryman checked out of America.” His second collection, All of You on the Good Earth, will appear in 2013. He supplies libretti and song texts for contemporary composers Stella Sung, Daniel Felsenfeld, and Christopher LaRossa, as well as scripts for the post-punk conceptual band Mercury Radio Theater. His poems have appeared in several anthologies, including the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (2009), Two Weeks: A Digital Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2011), and two Penguin anthologies, Poetry: A Pocket Anthology and Literature: A Pocket Anthology (2011). He hosts the pop culture blog www.everseradio.com and works as an antiquarian book dealer in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, an archaeologist.