Size / / /

They were people of dreams and ladders.

Their homes were hollowed into cliffs.

Their temples sunk beneath the ground.

By day they planted corn and squash.

At night they plaited mythic baskets.

Four worlds ago they tunneled up

ant people pouring from earth's navel.

The world they earned we live in now,

the next is soon to turn the tables.

Each stage emerging from the last

reversing what we thought we knew.

No simple progress from the past,

for though the light grows daily brighter,

the night wells up around our feet.

And while our heads crane toward the sun,

the drumbeats of the earth increase.

The brash set sights upon the future,

forget the depths from which they've come.

The ancient ones who dwelled in crags

spent prayerful nights in sacred holes.

For what emerges must descend

as sap sinks back into the root

to push up the aspiring shoot—

the fifth world merging day with night.

Richard Schiffman is a writer based in New York and a former journalist for National Public Radio. He is the author of two biographies. His work has appeared or is upcoming in Poetry East, Potomac Review, Southern Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Rosebud, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and many other journals.
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