The Alchemist in California

to the ‘soror mystica’, after Gerard Manley Hopkins

My window shows me sky
the color of your eyes,
four stars punching through.
I’m perched on the edge
of the continent, fog stretching
far out to sea, steam
rising in the flask, the child-soul
pulled loose from the body, rising,
falling back into the bath,
rising, falling back.

It has to boil for years, not a drop
can be lost. Strange tremors
collect there, the faultline
shifts, the whole world
cracks like a bad piece of wood,
dissolving, the mercury boiling away.
I don’t move; for three days I hold
my head in my hand, pray
for rain, relief, the end
of this grief, this swaying pain.

I found a seat on the cliff-edge
of a canyon, gazing down and up
into the same valley of lights,
caught between two dreams,
thinking of you. Watched
the moon rise through the mouth
of a distant mountain, a man and woman
joined in darkness, their shadows alive.
My own shadow walking beside me
back to the fire.

The earthquake came that night,
the sun rose pale and white; today
I turn the fire up under the flask.
The gold is caught in that light,
the one ghost who dances
where the first words are.
It rises all day in front of me.
I can’t turn around. I keep running,
following coins it tosses in the sea
before it takes its plunge.

(kz1977, first appeared in Plum Creek Review)

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