The Hymn

James Maher

The Hymn


1.

Sky is low and dark as five Neanderthal men
drag an elk up an embankment.
Blood is breaking from it everywhere.
They pitch it into rapids below and watch
with religious fervor as crimson bounds away
like its soul breaking free
and stains the river as far as the next bend.

Downstream the women are naked and dingy
beating skins clean on rocks.
They chant in time with the drumming
and the song that breaks from them flutters
in the breeze like a soul they didn't know
they had. It echoes down the canyon
and is lost. You could call it a hymn.

Fur and flesh and dirt loosened from the skins
thickens the breeze like a fog. Work is done
and the women smile. It is nearly dusk
and the red is breaking from the clouds everywhere.
The sun must be wounded. When the river
turns red it is an omen, it is religion.
The men come back and say nothing.


2.

But what about the rivers of the blood?
Our blood. Here and now. The chart
of the circulatory system looks like
the Amazon River Basin. Think of the steamy
jungles under the arms and between the thighs,
and cannibalistic tendencies we know we have:
French kissing, hickies, blow jobs . . .

or the story of the blind man who was pushed
over an embankment and onto subway tracks
as everyone stood transfixed by the cries
that broke from him and bounded away
down the tunnel like his soul wrenched free . . .
one time I was lost for three hours
in the New York subway system. Lights broke off

and on like primeval lightning and on the walls
were words in tongues I hoped never to learn
and sketches of tits, cock, mastodon, elk . . .
everywhere the stench of piss and marrow. In the back
a drunk old woman sang Row Row Row Your Boat
and a man joined, then another, and another, until
the whole car rocked with song. Call it a hymn.

 

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