Prince of Autumn
We hurry up the street, Her hand firm in mine,
Shift molded to Her flesh, raven hair like a banner,
Leaves awhirl under a sky gray as slate,
And a chill wind pushing us crosswise.
She coughs, stumbles, dragging on my arm.
“I’m fine,” She whispers hoarsely,
Picking Herself up off the worn stones.
I tug Her past the old courthouse and its accusing clock.
The house is but four blocks away,
Yet She is tired, the hill steep, the hour late.
Clouds stream, a savage coverlet
for the dead October sky.
Mrs. Smith’s terrier stumbles to the gate, his bark weak,
His fur pale gray, his collar leached of its customary hue.
The butcher’s door is bleached nearly white.
She leans on my shoulder. We walk more
and more slowly,
Yet I can feel Her shaking.
Always, it is so late before I see the signs:
A hesitation in Her breath,
a fading of summer’s blossoms,
The sun rises later, sets sooner, yields a cheerless light.
Sometimes I wonder if She knows, before I do.
Always, She waits for me to tell Her that we must be
Pilgrims again, as if She is reluctant to make the journey.
The gate, corroded iron has become a poisonous gray,
Retaining but a vestige of hematitic orange.
She is already too weak to shoot the bolt,
Her hand in mine is wrinkled and trembling.
The grass is sere, the house gray and porous.
She is wheezing, leaning Her head on my shoulder.
I carry Her now,
Into the crumbling ruin, down the rotten stair,
Through the mouth of her devastated Chamber.
I lay Her on the ancient Altar
About which the house was built.
Skeletal fingers curl slightly into mine,
She smiles, ivory hair mantling polished obsidian.
I hear a crash in the halls above and dust sifts down:
We have never come so late to this place.
Here, standing on the bare earth,
I bring forth that which
I have hoarded all the ripe green year.
With my one free hand I gently tilt Her head,
Put my wet wrist to Her withered lips.
What She has given I now gladly return.
She will nurture me through the long cold dark,
And at winter’s end I will spring up with Her new grass.
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