Takings/Leavings

by Maggie Wang

a sound poem after L’Étranger by Albert Camus

We maimed a gourd into a mordant. Established a port here
of which none knows. Received a telegram in July about a silo.
Interred therein were the sentiments of the distinguished. It was not
rice in a dire state, but wheat, and the vineyards we exiled to Monaco
last year. A quarter were killed on the Little Rhône. The authorities’
penitence took hours to arrive. It danced a prayer until rain poured
from the windowsills and ice entered the house from next door
and demanded two jars of cabbage and more partridge than we’ve
ever had. We could hardly refuse or recuse ourselves. March is for
sensing the afterlife. For quenching your thirst with the vernal equinox.
You could pour it, molten, into pecan shells. Take your lessons from God:
The solo voice invites internment in soft ground. A caesura is a sign of fair
existence. The longest-lost officiant visits in the hour of embarkation.
April is for silent bell towers and faces without clouds to cover
their shame. It falls asleep chanting the celestial. May nests in an aviary
thermometer, pain soldering its joints to the end of the mercury. It would
never have learned its own name but for this self-immolation. I had never
pondered a question more wondrous. Illness mounted an accompaniment
as we entered port. Its uncle, an etude for departure, trickled down from
the mountaintop, exhausted from the manual labour of the climb up.
On its way, it encountered a crevice of brass, remembrances of
perfidy by an orange-bellied parrot. Inasmuch as any of us could cure
sin, we were confined to purgatory. To depart from the set course was to
precipitate tragedy. So we did nothing. To adjudge the age of candles,
to sense the depth of their essence, required reverting to a route of
dormant penitence and a map of meteor trails, but we did not
complain. That we could afford this parley was enough. The kiln that
fired our tombstones did so of its own volition, not because it conceded
in the fallout of some violent encounter. It inscribed on them a directory of
occupied states. Attention was paid to the wails of a temperate forest that
we deflowered. A parliament without visionaries organised the reception:
an empty sideboard, a voice rustling like linen and incapable of vowels.
Homage was returned to its paymaster. Guests were invited to retire
to the consulates of foreign nations and memorise the faces of all
who passed below. Whenever your soul encounters a new reproof,
choose gently the allegation to dispel. Maybe leave time for a final
interruption, a word not poised for any moment but now. Deposit a dossier
of wishes in an undeciphered language for the brave souls of a future age
to speculate about. Modesty is key to the completion of one’s fate. Youth
must shed itself at the door, and only old age pass to the destination.