Eleanor Wilner


The world was a globe that sat on a table
in a fire-lit study, the table covered
with a rich, tooled leather; while
the man who spun the globe—matching
countries with the map spread out below
on the desk from which he reached
an arm to turn the little effigy of world—
was shifting borders in his head, so that
the spinning orb began to glow
with his desire, his designs. As if his dreams
had given off a smoke, a thick fog
cloaked and altered everything he saw—

so even now, when all the corpses from that spin
have long since rotted in the grave,
the clouds have not dispersed, their swirling
smoke obscures all but the twisted steel
of a foregone conclusion, the world unmade,
as centuries and cities fall, cascade
into the landfill of history—worlds born
on the waste of those that came before.
As a glowing cloud of smoke will hang
over a burning dump at night, and the bears
and raccoons come out, eyes shining in the dark,
to paw through the smoldering heaps—
just so the historian sits, sifting and sifting
entrails, cornices, motives, bones—all
that is left to be indexed and filed,
rearranged, given syntax and sense;
above him, stuffed birds—a condor, a gull,
a carrion crow, moth-eaten by time,
look down on his labors
with a bright, glassy-eyed rancor
from their dusty cases, and,
stirring a little on their perches, try
with beaks their walls of glass:
here and there now, hairline cracks,
and as night falls, the sound of taps.
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