Stephen Massimilla Ascent

-After Neruda

On the ladder of the earth, I clambered

through the atrocious thicket of forsaken forests

up to you, Macchu Picchu.

Lofty city of stone stairways:

Finally, a dwelling that the earth

had not concealed in her nightclothes.

In you, as in two parallel lineages,

the cradle of lightning and that of man

rocked together in the bristling wind.

Mother of stone, spindrift of the condors.

High reef of the dawn of humanity.

Trowel abandoned in primordial sand.

This was their home, this is the place:

Here the large grains of maize once swelled

and fell over and over, like roseate hail.

Here the golden wool of the vicuña was spun

to cover the loved ones—the barrows, the mothers,

the king, the worshippers, the warriors.

Here the feet of man found rest by night,

beside the talons of the eagle in the high

meat-strewn aeries, and at dawn

they stepped thunder-shod through the rarefied fog,

touching the soil and the stones

until they recognized them in the night or in death.

I gaze at the rags and the hands,

the trickle of water in the sonorous hollow,

the wall softened by the touch of a face

that with my eyes gazed at the earthly lanterns,

that with my hands oiled the vanished

planks: Because everything—clothing, skin, pots,

words, wine, loaves—

was gone, fallen into the earth.

And the air entered with its orange-blossom fingers

over all the sleeping dead:

a thousand years of air—months, weeks of air—

of azure wind on the iron cordillera

that was like a soft hurricane of footfalls

polishing this solitary precinct of rock.

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