A Chest of Angels

written by

« Reload image

'I have always felt that desolation,that hell itself, is most powerfully expressedin an uninhabited natural landscapeat its bleakest.' - Anthony Hecht

1.To each his own hell. Mine was an uninhabitedlandscape as far from nature as you can getwithout actually leaving the planet, a man-made

moon waste on Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn,fired in the sun's kiln through unendingafternoons when I was nine or ten.

I can never get the whole scene put togetherin my head, thanks to whatever guardianspirit flags down potentially dangerous

intruders on the verge of memory,but parts of me hold parts of it: my earsplay out the hissing wires' repeated rise

and fall, dry waves breaking above pavement;my nostrils chafe where fumes of gasolineweep from soft tarred patches in the asphalt;

through a chainlink grid, my eyes take insome lot's trapped beach, its black sand an amalgamof gravel, soot, and broken glass; or they blink

in sequence with the traffic light's perpetualsolitaire at a carless intersection,flicking over greens, ambers, reds;

my hands remember enough not to touchthe shut steel trap doors of delivery chuteswhere air trembles over surfaces

as at their beginnings in a furnace.What fills my mind to bursting is emptiness,the spirit of inverted Genesis

transforming light and water's urge towards fullnessinto a miracle of unearthly loss.

2.Sentries, a pair of gasoline pumps napped.Their rubber arms dangled groundwards and loopedback up, hanging slack from the brass lapel

their trigger-fingers hooked at shoulder height.They were no angels, but kept the gate of hellwhenever I made visits to the angels.

Behind them, next to a roll-up garage dooralways rolled up, with an invisible caralways risen above the stone lintel

on the hydraulic lift, a soft drink coolersat coffin-like against the stucco wall.And always songs from a hidden radio

promised cool mountain rivers to the hotflat city: somebody else must have listened,but I never saw a soul in all my visits.

The angels' wings fluttered the moment I raisedthe lid, a potent shimmer, as if the sunitself shone from the chest, not its reflections

playing off the steel bars and icy waters.The angels sat in rows between the bars,their orders chevroned by the shapes and colours

of their glass capes: the bluish, scalloped whorlof cherubim, the powers' straight sheer crystal,the emerald flare of flaming seraphim --

all emissaries from the sky-washed shoreof heaven. To put a coin in the dispenser,slide one of them along its plated channel

and lift it free through the chest's narrow gate --to kiss the cold stars of its distillation --was not important; it was only important

to see the angels swimming in the glitterand dip my fingers in their flickering waterat the centre of that man-made desert,

knowing that they were man-made, and might shatter.

© Reibetanz John