by Thomas Davis
The day was shining, water dancing blue
Below the hill still glittering with dew.
Achat, with Hurit by his side, looked down
Toward the pebble beach and lake, his frown
Intense with memories he’d long suppressed,
His heartbeat beating loudly in his chest.
Long years had passed since he had stood above
The place reminding him of timeless love.
His childish body hid behind a birch
Inside a grove upon the hill, his perch
The perfect place to watch his father run
Toward his mother on the beach, the sun
So bright with summer heat it bent the air
And danced above the terror of despair.
That night his father, in a shallow cave,
Had whispered, “When it’s light you’ll have to save
Yourself by hiding. They won’t try to kill
Your Mom and I. They want you dead. Your skill
In hiding where you can’t be found is all
The hope that’s left.” His mother’s night-bird call
Had told them she was near. “Remember, hide!”
He’d said, then left the cave, his son inside.
Five hunters left the trees. His father ran.
His mother stopped and watched. The biggest man
Stopped, pulled his bow string, let an arrow fly.
It struck his father’s back. His mother’s cry
Of anguish shattered silence. The big man’s yell
Of triumph echoed as his father fell.
A boy of ten, he knelt and watched the men
Walk slowly down the beach, knives drawn, a grin
Upon their faces as his mother cried
Until the bloody moment when she died.
As Hurit watched the shadows on his face,
Tears welled into her eyes. “This is the place?”
She asked. He stared into the distant past
And felt the shock and terror that had gasped
Into his spirit, forced him up the hill.
“Not here,” he said. “Up there. I saw them kill
My mother and my father here. I fled
So that I wouldn’t have to see them dead.”
He turned abruptly, climbing up toward
The cliffs above them. As an eagle soared
From off the rising rocks, Achat stopped, glanced
At Hurit, beautiful and strong, entranced
By mysteries she did not understand.
He felt his twisted back and twisted hand
Send shudders through the villagers who looked
At him. His gross deformities had hooked
A terror that their spirits could not shake
No matter how his parents tried to make
Him like another boy, a villager
And not some dark, unholy, malformed cur.
The eagle circled from the cliffs to where
They climbed; its piping cries a solitaire,
Bleak ritual that seemed to integrate
Their movements with dark auguries of fate.
The men upon the beach had seen him climb
Into the open. Scared and grieving, time
A shrinking leather strap about his neck,
He started scaling up the cliffs, a speck
Of darkness in the sky above him, fear
Inside each breath he took, his thoughts not clear.
At last, upon the cliff rim, looking down,
He watched the hunters point, an eagle’s brown,
Swift body suddenly above the cliffs,
A pelican below the eagle, riffs
Of offshore winds a trembling under wings
That folded as a beak’s bright yellow flings
Into the flying pelican as two
Large birds fell tumbling through the sky’s bright blue.
As blood spewed from the pelican, dense mist
Spread from the blood, a shadowy encyst
So thick Achat, the child, had lost his sight.
The summer day had turned into a night
So dark he could not move. He tried to hear
The hunters at the cliff’s rock base, a queer
Infinity inside his head, but all
He’d heard were whispers in the murky pall
That chilled his bones and goaded him to see
Again the murderous, wild sense of glee
That plunged a knife into his mother’s heart
And tore his sense of who he’d been apart.
As Hurit took his hand upon the rim
Above the cliff and bay, he looked so grim
He frightened her. “This is the place,” she said.
He felt the awful sense of blinding dread
That once had paralyzed him as he stood
In mist, the hunters out of sight, childhood
A past forgotten. “When my father came
And led me from this cliff,” he said. “My shame
At having hidden as my parents died
Was more than I could take. I thought the tide
Of life had ended, leaving me a husk
Who’d live his life inside an endless dusk.
I never thought I’d love or feel again.
My living felt as if it was a sin.”
“My father found you in a cedar swamp,”
She said. “He frightened me,” he said. “The clomp
Of boots through muck continued what assailed
Me while I dreamed of dying, as I railed
Against my hand and back and longed for death.”
“My father said he heard your rasping breath
Before he found you on a spit of land,”
She answered. “When you couldn’t even stand
He carried you. He’s always said he knew
That you were someone special, someone who
Would give to all our people special gifts.”
He looked down at the beach below the cliffs.
He saw the arrow in his father’s back
And saw his mother as a spirit, black
Eyes urging him to run, his father’s voice
An insubstantial whisper sapping choice
About continued living from his will,
His father’s running swift, but yet dead still.
A guttural howling haunted hate into his eyes.
He heard again his mother’s anguished cries.
“I watched you save my mother’s life,” she said,
Voice soft. “You took the fever from her head
And put it in the air. I saw you call
Old Weso back from death, the awful pall
Of waxen lifelessness inside his skin,
His face weird, twisted by his death-mask grin.”
He took a deep, long breath. The eagle flew
Above their heads. The sunlight seemed to skew
Into a twisted ball of blinding light.
The eagle disappeared, its soaring flight
An emptiness of bright blue summer sky.
Inside his head the pelican’s sharp cry,
As eagle talons sank into its flesh,
Forged summer light into an augered mesh
That jolted fire into a boy that made
His way through mist behind his father’s shade.
He looked at Hurit and his twisted hand.
He felt the power in the cliffs, this land.
He wondered, as he stared at distant waves,
If he was looking at his parent’s graves.
The day was shining, water glinting blue.
He said to Hurit, “I’m in love with you.”