Unfurling Pieter Breugel's The Triumph of Death
Now I see! it is a scroll being wound to the right
into the maw of time. Humanity vanishes
as flamboyant and noisy as ever, and as surprised
as ever, mouths shaped into fleshy Os
of astonishment. Who? me? There must be a mistake!
Bonier others look on, grinning in delight,
for which their teeth alone seem to suffice.
In the next panel, the one you cannot see
yet, the skies are blue, the animals
have returned to reclaim the land. Even the horse,
rawboned and beaten, that pulled death's cart
has fattened up. It looks up from the grass
and shakes its noble head as if to dispel
the last remnants of a foul dream.
But for now, it's a party! Everyone has come
bringing their instruments, the big bells
trumpets strings timpani and something
that looks like a tambourine, or is that a cartwheel?
Far off, the sea boils and fire falls
from the air. And crosses everywhere! Sign beneath
which Netherlander and Aztec alike perished.
On the left, a young disconsolate (or aging
philosopher — it's hard to tell) stares
into his hand or what is left of it.
He sees the future dawn without his kind
and knows it's right, they've made a hash of things.
And nothing, nothing to be done but wait
until the final turn grinds him to dust.
Michele Stepto lives in Connecticut, where she has taught literature and writing at Yale University for many years. In the summers, she teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont. Her stories have appeared in NatureWriting, Mirror Dance Fantasy and Lacuna Journal. She is the translator, along with her son Gabriel, of Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World.
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