The Pilgrim’s Pause
By Joe Labriola
The crimson cliffs soak in the deep twilight;
their crumbling slopes all patched with golden brush
like new birthing stars, behind snaking plains
of pebbly terrain, off into dusk’s haze.
That haze, once of heat – now cool, dimming mist.
Still dry, like before, but now lacking warmth;
the set-sailing sun slackens as it fades,
and casts essence-shades of Earth’s truth, inert.
A truth that Earth knows. A truth that Earth feels.
It is all just rock, just stone without sun.
It soon will submit – submit to that chill;
the western most wind, already begins.
But these boulders, for now, still simmering,
still steaming with heat from the long day’s trek;
still seething with force from the life giver:
the giver of all; all friend and all foe.
Now it is failing, drowning far beyond
the cliffs at its back – more crimson here now
than even in day, beneath their red lord.
Now it is slipping, off somewhere to sleep.
Down, down, deep within. Down deep in some bed,
some world beyond west. Beyond that blurred bend.
Down with all its heat; all its hope and help,
all its hurt and health. That healer. That friend.
A friend to him now. Now without a doubt.
The wanderer paused. And turned his gaze west.
Long, here, he would stare as the sun sat still
for a fleeting pause, it seemed for a wink.
The man looked back east. The land where he came.
More sprawling it seemed; the night coming fast:
its blurred tendrils creeping their grasp nearer,
fuller, bolder, brighter in art – of dark.
Now darker than the dark to come to him,
much darker than the world to bloom awake
as the owls and bats and other night things
awoke upon the moon glowing their birth.
But now, that moon still lay away behind
these crimson cliffs whose breadth basked in the sun,
as if these stones so burnt with ire of day
sought to respect the power that scorched their clay.
So luminous in their creator’s death,
except that stones and shining shrubs in cliffs
feel not, but live, by what good life has fed
their hoping stares in face of stars so dead.
The twinkling dots appeared slowly at first.
The setting sun, the sinking grail still full.
Still full all while it fell beneath the slope
of soon to fade horizon’s last writ page.
And so it was the wanderer, here, stood,
his heavy gaze shifting between these worlds:
one dark, but soon to breech the seeming end;
one light, but soon to leave its child to doom.
Neither could know the other one that well.
Both eyes of life, only at death, could glance;
always passing from life to death again,
always glancing as each retook their birth.
But here, right now, the wanderer could see –
this traveled man, this true pilgrim could see.
The light of both caught him within some breaths,
and so he paused to think on never-death.
But here he was – the wandered man of time;
the journeyed soul, the bearer of true light.
This man had come from lands so far and strange
that cliffs and brush would think their lives so bland.
He tried to hear, but rocks speak not of pain
or love, or life, or death, or birth again.
They only show their wounds from where they come:
built up, beat down; light up, light down again.
The man was sure the western wind he felt
would sing cliff song if he were not down here.
This flattened plain just whooshed a plain, dry hymn –
a solemn song of journey long, long spent.
That straight journey, he thought must seek some end.
He knew he did, and so was why he paused.
His own self sank within the deep twilight.
The sun now just a boiling frown instead.
Without his mind, what more was he than they?
What more than rocks, and shrubs and strange night-beings?
What more than that hollow, windy, swept breath?
Who was he here? Alone, in all his thought.
The wanderer turned back toward sinking sun,
its phony frown dipping beneath Earth’s brow.
He knew that look would come to him again,
with welcome light after a world of bed.
But now its haze danced on the far off scene,
its last loose flames dissolving on the brink.
And as that God vanished beneath event
the glowing night still shown its gifting sight.
These cliffs now drained of all their native hue
sat long and cold and dyed in purple sheet.
The wind more chilled, more whipping still here now.
The wanderer needed to draw his coat.
But he could smile, knowing he kept his way.
This man had paused to think upon his trek;
his long days past, and longer nights to come,
such journey here was far from being done.
Just one moment, he took to take his break –
to rest his feet, his sanded soles, his aches.
He breathed. And sighed. Such rests worn men must take
to think on where they came, and now they reach.
His breath; his sigh, sauntered off with the breeze
that seemed to push the last vapors of sun
away, with night hungry behind his back –
its appetite grander than all who wake.
The cold can kill as much as chill one’s heart.
And on this plain, death bears no care of trial.
But even as the gripping night took hold,
the fair lanterns of guides appeared from rest.
So high they ranged, like paths of silver stroke,
some flicked fixtures of worlds beyond true gaze.
But there they were, here in this realm of lack,
as if to show that hope cannot be lost.
The moon now breached the silent curves of cliffs,
its full shining more bare than blinding sun.
Its welcome shade a hope of light to come,
now fixed among this night reborn once more.
And so the wanderer stared up in love,
until the winds from cliffs now lost in space
blew strong as if against his willing stand –
it told he was no rock or brush to rest.
Some may have feared this loving scene of drought.
Some may have lost all love they had to start.
But he had not come here from lands long dark
to crumble now and be a rock, forgot.
And so he steps, his first step since his pause.
So long ago, it seems to him in stride.
But from so far, he does not fear his fate.
Lucky, he knows how stars can guide his feet.