Give a man a god and watch
as he becomes it. When the ancient
city flooded, the only surviving artifacts
were the heads of children depicted
in onyx that sat in the upper regions
of a temple said to have been built
to protect mankind from what could only be
approximated: storms, thefts, the tautology
of paradox. The children were smiling, chiseled
round as the space a star could leave behind
if plucked from dazzle. Give a man a god
and watch him usher himself into dawn
with night clinging to his soles, dark wings
carving a hard pattern into the sky,
dark wings pounding the air into storms.
He wants to get away. He wants to take back
himself from the world he thinks does not
deserve him. He has made from antlers
a fetish to adorn his neck. It chases nothing
back into the foreseen fearful world. It cannot
chase itself, wicked little dog always finding
its tail and making from its hunt an ouroboros.
What kind of hunger is this, talismanic, unkind
futility called faith? What gods give
to themselves: humans to gift to them
a shape, a mystery to govern. Each prayer
goes up and completes the mask.
It is kindergarten and the children approach
their thinking with glue and glitter, cardboard
shaped from youthful pathos into fearsome
forms. What could they hope for?
What does the tiger mask mean to them, red paint
on its mouth for the blood sacrifice? In the temple
the mother of these child deities is said to be
a god of hope who uses her offspring’s rain
to fill her vases and pour water gently
onto her own believers. The children rain down wrath
from their black heads: spit of curses, tears to menace.
When asked why men depicted an angry god
as a collection of bodiless children, a scholar
responded, “Eternity has a face,
young and bitter.” When asked why onyx,
she said “so that mankind could not see
when war arrived, when blood dropped like feet
to the earth, when houses burned
as though by lightning when was no lightning.”
The heart is an instrument of fear, its rhythm
drummed with no hands to guide it. And the brain
is a temple of sparks and mazes. Its stony cage
hides impulses to roar and tear asunder.
Behind their masks, the kindergarteners
make strange noises they think are pretend.
When they shut their eyes, they lose themselves.
Behind such loss is where they begin.

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