Bruce Bond is the author of eighteen books including, most recently, Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (U of MI, 2015), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, U of Tampa, 2016), Gold Bee (Helen C. Smith Award, Crab Orchard Award, Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), Sacrum (Four Way Books, 2017), and Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997-2015 (E. Phillabaum Award, LSU, 2017). Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas.
Consolation of Shadows
Memory says it begins the moment
we stand at one end, walk toward the other,
walk a little more and make no progress,
and who can blame it, how it withdraws from us
the image we call ours, the space we beat
with shoes and reasons to abuse them.
Why condemn the leash if it stretches
in pursuit of something beyond our eyes.
Who can blame it if it inks in secret
the affidavit of a more conscious life,
if the flame we stamp gets longer, blacker.
Memory says let me tell you a story:
how Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty
mourned the death of a lover so deeply
his loyals made a shadow puppet, the first,
or the first we know, stitched the body
out of mule hide draped in lucid silks.
And the likeness of the silhouette
was neither anesthesia nor affliction,
but a kind of black flame to the moth
of the eye, come to join, again, the others.
The wings of theaters know a dawning
music cues the dimming of the house.
And yes, the stories that survive are kings
among the peasant eulogies that fade.
The lover was a concubine, I should mention.
The untold exchanges, be they currency
or vows, what are they now if not blank
pages shadowed by those who read them.
In the backlit panels of the royal boathouse,
a woman’s body emerges from a waver
of silk. And from that body steps a man.
From the man an emperor, a wolf,
a flock of crows, a moral outrage, a more
seductive wolf, whose next self might be
selfless, when the beast offers to share
his slaughter. And we walk to the end of our
shadows and kneel. And the room goes dark.