A challenge sticks in the mind like a litany.
It can turn you into a cartographer
of the spirit, studying the compass
rose of a map no one suspects
would lead you up the steep incline
to the empty rooms of the Puye.
The noble people of the Puye—
their spirit echoes through the litany
of these cliff dwellings; you incline
your spirit as you climb, no cartographer
among the usual suspects
now, but a compass
for the body's compass,
pointing directly toward the noble Puye.
Were they noble? One suspects
not. Through time, doesn't the human litany
privilege the cartographers
of survival? To incline
is to deviate. To incline
is to tell the story slant, encompass
blame. The Anasazi were cartographers
of digestion—perhaps they ate the Puye
ancestors, in their halfway-to-heaven litany
of rooms like escargot shells. Suspects
in the chain of human suspects,
the Anasazi left DNA deposits that incline
us to that ancient litany
of sacrifice, ingestion, what "comes to pass" ...
The ones who inhabited the Puye
left nothing to us cartographers
of language—the very word "cartographer"
would make them smile, one suspects.
Was there a word for "enemy" in the Puye
tongue? "Enema"? Was the incline's
face God's face? Was each body a compass,
each life a bead, a chant in His litany?
Ah, the noble Puye—eaters or eaten? Suspects,
cartographers of rebirth? Or their litany
ours: incline of empty rooms, a lost compass?
— James Cummins,
author of Then & Now
Do you sense the potential for both humor and serious philosophy, set up by repetitive nature of the sestina form?
All poems, art, and photos are public domain or used by permission of author or publisher.