The History of Red

First

there was some other order of things

never spoken

but in dreams of darkest creation.

 

Then there was black earth,

lake, the face of light on water.

Then the thick forest all around

that light,

and then the human clay

whose blood we still carry

rose up in us

who remember caves with red bison

painted in their own blood,

after their kind.

 

A wildness

swam inside our mothers,

desire through closed eyes,

a new child

wearing the red, wet mask of birth,

delivered into this land

already wounded,

stolen and burned

beyond reckoning.

 

Red is this yielding land

turned inside out

by a country of hunters

with iron, flint and fire.

Red is the fear

that turns a knife back

against men, holds it at their throats,

and they cannot see the claw on the handle,

the animal hand

that haunts them

from some place inside their blood.

 

So that is hunting, birth,

and one kind of death.

Then there was medicine, the healing of wounds.

Red was the infinite fruit

of stolen bodies.

The doctors wanted to know

what invented disease

how wounds healed

from inside themselves

how life stands up in skin,

if not by magic.

 

They divined the red shadows of leeches

that swam in white bowls of water:

they believed stars

in the cup of sky.

They cut the wall of skin

to let

what was bad escape

but they were reading the story of fire

gone out

and that was a science.

 

As for the animal hand on death’s knife,

knives have as many sides

as the red father of war

who signs his name

in the blood of other men.

 

And red was the soldier

who crawled

through a ditch

of human blood in order to live.

It was the canal of his deliverance.

It is his son who lives near me.

Red is the thunder in our ears

when we meet.

Love, like creation,

is some other order of things.

 

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