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The Pivotal Kingdom by Alice Fulton

The Pivotal Kingdom

by Alice Fulton

(published in her 1994 book, Powers of Congress, David R. Godine, Publisher)

A head capsized the wild mechanism of May

and a body followed, casting off

its muddy husk.

I gazed at him from the raised walkway

of the excavation site,

through dust the color of suntan.

I wanted to stroke a thing so warmly

smooth, a uniform khaki, on bended knee.

I wouldn’t mind touching hands

tensed round centuries

of hiatus in place of vanished weapons.

His motions tabled for millenniums,

he’d had a long word with the earth.

He’d lodged in its plutonic gut,

an emptiness strung with pulse. Like all mortals,

I have a nodding acquaintance

with the dark.

You know our slogan: keep it light.

The tiled tunnels beneath rivers, fallout

shelters, the undersides of bridges

where sunbeams slither

like lizards on adhesive toes

are good at holding

shadows. But shadows aren’t hard

blackness as much as patterns

lit by lesser light.

Even our refrigerators are stuffed

with glow, like well-appointed homes.

Though it’s no strain to visit the abandoned

mines beneath Detroit,

the transformers choked in power

lines under Manhattan’s tailored granite,

I wouldn’t want to lodge

in the clay warrior’s dense bed.

I’d miss the inner city

of sensation so solid you’d swear it was

embodied: Yearning, an expansive

mansion in the marrow; pain,

a charger of barbed wire;

and joy, a freed slave hoisting

hallelujahs through the nerves.

But is this private sector hidden

in heart or brain or bone?

Docs it hold

eminent domain inside our heads, live in

vivid ampules under wraps

of fat, swim through tissue's minnowed shadings

or skin sublit by polar longues,

the opalescent flecks of cellulite

like spectral residues

in flesh? As Socrates said

life's intrinsic

to the soul but accidental

to the body. He said

if the spirit does exist

it isn't a good mixer. In my book

inclusions are not accidents,

though accidents exist.

It's best to conscript them,

the way jazz repeats a slip

till it sounds right.

Just think, it was a mistake

made by plants that created oxygen

and led to us, builders

of plants that change air back

to what our lungs can't trust.

The pivotal kingdom holds

crossbows rigged against intruders,

terra cotta soldiers guarding

rivers reproduced in small,

and shuttlecocking constellations

at the lop. Walking, we're borne

up by glancing blows

that form the ground, spirit cities

fraught with once and future

euphorias, with wars.

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