where I am not sacred. Not the curled clutch of the shell,
the weathered cliff built like a knee’s first attempt.
I am in the kingdom of the ledge and ridge,
my human fingers hold a human chain, umbilical piton,
invisible fingers hold me in an impossible grip, a deity
of rockfall and switchback. Here I am delirium,
datura, the distance down to the maw, to the stone teeth,
in the threat pocket of the canyon’s destiny.
My fear dropping into landscape and I become its growth,
fuel for leaves, for the butterfly, the tongues of lizard and rat.
The vial of my body breaks at the tree-filled canyon,
at the coat of steps at the narrow trail.
I am vertigo as love not felt since childhood,
since the carnival brought the unnatural machinery of falling
to the tiny New Jersey church parking lot
that same iron holding me in place, holding me, scrub tree to nest.
The light here becomes my eyes, unfolding cover
of sandstone, Jurassic lines of nostalgia,
sand of a Toarcian saga, original tradition of the States,
built deep in the coils of the earth. This place has no name,
no place for offense, no anger, no embarrassment of precision.
Just the steel, the heat, the shadows, the cut
where juniper breaks crevice, growing unbound as a sun.
Am I sacred here? Sacred as the pinyon jay, mouth born of seed.
Its flock as heavy as the world’s troubles,
blue and gray merge as each voice speaks a morsel of life,
eternal pine seeds in this dance of birth and mate,
of rain into stone and the trail melts away, and the steel follows,
and my bones vanish in hammer and storm river,
and my body as chain falls away, and then I am dancing,
wings to the trackless ground,
pinyon in my mouth, as holy as any saint created.
—After a photograph by Cindy L. Sheppard:
The Chains That Free Us
—Photographer’s Choice for Winner of
The Chains Writing Challenge
is a writer/propagandist who lives in Conshohocken, PA with his real name, wife, and children. He attended most of his life in the Southern part of New Jersey. His work has been published in such places as Humana Obscura, Television Religion, Open Skies Quarterly, The Red Hibiscus, River Heron Review, and Impspired. His real goal is to make the great Hoboken poet/exterminator Jack Wiler proud. So far, so good.