A Poetic Mystery in Four Parts

Part I

We met at the fountain of the court of St. James:
a seller of icons, a thief, and a master of blades.
Which of the three you attribute to me will depend

on the slyness—forgive me, the shyness, that holds
you in silence. For now, let it be, let suffice, I was there
when we met on that day at the court of St. James.

Four scenes to a puzzle whose solving may lead
to transfiguration, and if you believe that is too vast
a claim, if you doubt that I look at you now

with the sound of your name on my lips, with an
archive of all that you’ve done and have come
to regret at arm’s reach, and you call me a fool,

then you’ve nothing to fear from the day
that was sunny, the day that we met to conspire
at the fountain of the court of St.James.


We surrounded our leader, who said:
a pretender to all you hold dear of enjoyment
of life’s true desires has risen to power.

I’ve brought you all here, for I need you
to find him. His influence grows through adherence
to roles like a burrowing termite destroys

what appears on the outside to be well
and whole. We looked at each other. Do we know
he’s a he? asked the master of blades.

When we find him, then what? said the thief
who disliked taking on any task that did not guarantee
an endless supply of pleasure for free.

Only the seller of icons refrained and allowed
what our leader had yet to explain to be rolled
at our feet like a turbulent circular sheet.

It resembled a rug or a map with a scallopy edge
like the shells of St. James, but the center—or, rather
the radii that would suggest to the eye where

the center should be, rolled and squirmed and
tumbled and surged cylindrically, like the skeletons
of neolithic earthworms. I’m aware that I’m stretching

biology—a nonvertebrate’s bones cannot be—
but I need you to see what I saw…what you saw.
He is she, she is he, said our leader of three,

placing his hand here and there as you would
at a stove or a barbecue fire to check on the heat.
I’ve torn this, he said, from a rupture that covers

and blinds what were once thought to be
indisputable minds. That the dangers of failure
are great you must know, but to think only death

that you smugly believe you don’t fear
lies in wait is the most infantile assumption
to make. He looked around from you to me

and to the other. Each take a piece that you
feel you can hold, then set out alone to retrieve
and receive and reveal the pretender. If you try

to deceive or to make me believe you’ve
achieved what I ask you to do…he dropped
his arms with the fading of words and the ghost

of a smile. He turned to the fountain of the court
of St. James, and the water shot skyward, a singular
plume. The friend to my left toppled back just

as if the ground had been yanked, while
the one to my right, face forward collapsed like
a wine-sodden groom, which only left me and

the memory of you, of us three when as
strangers we came and collided and learned
the word debt. I reached out and touched

a scallopy edge of the map, and the fountain
went dark and I heard a loud buzz in my ear
like a storm cloud of gnats and a grumbling

voice with a tone of despair saying, “So much
for that!” And the sun on the day that we met
at the court of St. James disappeared.

…to be continued

© Elaine Stirling, 2014