Size / / /

She shone from inside,

her skin like sunlit clouds,

her eyelashes pins of light.

He followed her, his beacon,

to escape the grey lands,

to emerge in the world each morning.

Simple man who wore

the ghosts of his beloved Vitebsk

like a comforting shawl;

because he knew they weren't ghosts at all.

Reduced to ruins by Nazi hands,

but he found it again

the first time he followed her

beyond the grey lands.

She first revealed herself to him

long years before

he left the black and white of Russia

for the kaleidoscope of Paris:

in days when his world held nothing more

than carts and cows and long school hours,

and dreams of magic-colored laughter.

At first he thought her nothing more

than his beautiful Bella

perceived in spirit by his yearning soul:

lounging nude atop

the roses on the mantle;

staring up at him from puddles,

a distaff reflection;

beheld in nighttime visions,

borne away on horses

by shadowy barbarians,

or towering anxiously over

infinities of forest where fey children played.

But he knew her to be something more

when every sighting became the same:

a shining figure cut from a summer sky,

kneeling alone, head bowed,

solemn as his mother praying at the synagogue,

a steady lamp in a vast plain of shifting grey.

She stayed with him in Moscow and Berlin,

and the creative tempest of the Paris streets.

He watched her each night, but

kept his distance, more awed than afraid.

She stayed with him, when the Stalin plague,

then the Blitzkrieg,

walled his childhood home away.

When he and Bella fled to America,

when the message came, surreal psychic telegram,

that Nazis had hollowed out his beloved town,

that's when he overcame his awe,

when he spoke to her, when she stood,

beckoned him to follow

through the grey lands, past

the smiling red-eyed soldiers, past

the white crucifix leaning above the ruins.

Past all that, and there they were,

breathing in strange new space:

green-faced violin players guarding

vertical streets; carts full of children flying

above rooftops, pulled by manic nags

whose foals romped among stars;

men and women unclothed, unbound

by flesh or gravity, finding untried ways

to interlock; quiet Jews robed in earth

and light, still insisting on prayer;

winged jugglers with hummingbird heads

and wide sympathetic eyes;

all things freed of black and white

to be seen as they always truly were.

His own eyes brimming, he raised

his hands—now seven-fingered—

blew kisses to her glowing form in gratitude.

He built monuments to her in glass,

the light he knew as hers filtered

through the tints of the true universe

which he saw at firsthand each night

beyond the grey lands.

The final time he followed her,

as age, infirmity, uncertainty

slipped from him like a snake's skin,

he flowed across the space between them,

touched her at last, pressed flowers

into her warm, beaming hands.

Blood-red fauns and sea-blue nymphs

danced around his naked body and hers

at their wedding feast.




Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. His newest poetry collection, Disturbing Muses, is out from Prime Books, with a second collection, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, soon to follow. Mike's poems can also be found in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005, both editions of The 2005 Rhysling Anthology, and the Strange Horizons archives.
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