The Ancient Modern
The Descent / Joshua Alan Sturgill
Falling roughly from an apple tree onto the crumbled earth
of a recent grave, I first felt the immediate cold of embarrassment,
sharper even than the chill of the temperature change. I am alone
here in this pale, barren field. A family of deer are close enough
I see the clouds of their breath halo their faces in the Winter air.
I’ll need warmer clothes than these. The time? Still morning.
But not like the morning there. I look up, back into the tree
where I fell from, fast and hard. The descent and the bruises, both
fresh. Far above, a Summer light rests on leaves golden and remote.
How quickly I came down all that distance! I was in the middle of
a conversation. With God. And lost my balance. So God is lost,
but still too near for proof. And too recent to be remembered,
because I haven’t had time to replace Him with a memory. Besides,
it was all too simple to be described. Words complicate. I rise,
and step down awkwardly from the shifting mound of loose soil.
Deer scatter, startled. Luckily, this grave was here to cushion
my fall. I brush off the dirt, but rust and clay leave ochre stains
remaining on my skin. I need new Names. I will call Him “God
of the Apple Tree” now. I will be “Abandoned Field.” And growing
already long behind me, “History”—a frightened shadow. These
names are guides, perhaps. I wonder if names will soon confuse me.
We were talking. But I fell into a dream of luxurious flowers. God
was different in my dreams, but I was still His Hands. I don’t know
this field, yet it seems to shy away from me. Maybe I’m to blame
for a war that happened here, and the ground remembers me with fear.
Few sounds are left to echo. But I hear distant cries. I shouldn’t leave
the grave; it’s my only landmark. I’ll wait; I’ll think. I haven’t fallen
very far from the tree. And its branches look sturdy enough to climb.