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Constancy VI
Before god
Before the dead
Before children
Before a world
Before the sea drowns
Before clouds conflagrate
Before the phoenix drops
Before thorns flower
Before you leave
Before I lose
Before it rives
Before they blaze
Before you leave home, banished to a land named Alone
Before I lose my voice — voice that will roam spheres seeking yours
Before a border rives language from love, marrow and bone
Before words blaze through veins in jagged tongues of fire
Ravel wild cursives from a pledge
            Retrieve its letters — vowels, abjads and all
                           Send them to safety, from lip to lip to heart and lung.
Before the sea drowns, gills clogged by a reign of blood
Before clouds conflagrate, scorch the seasons, rain dark light
Before the phoenix drops her song, sealing the casement to dawn
Before thorns flower in bronchioles and branches crowd airways
Write it all — little stories, giant histories, a few myths
            Tie them to cottonseeds, so they fall in distant hands
                      Etch a copy on memory’s palms: call it the human crease.
Before god dies, smile trampled, a thousand arms crushed underfoot
Before the dead return like moonlight, trailing white ash and regrets
Before children swap marbles for slugs and swallow darkness at meals
Before a world of straight lines and ironclad right owns your eyes
Dance, dance on vanishing shores between night and half-light
              Return, return to nest like stacked spoons, lock chest with spine
                           Twine hip and thigh, knit ten fingers, purl the lips — once more
                                        Before the battle.

Poet's Note: Excerpted from the prologue of Until the Lions, a reworking of the Mahabharata in verse.