The Wound and Not the Story of the Wound

desert2From that high place
it appeared a lake

pinkish-white and round with promise
a beautiful mark on the land
walled in by red rock
and a giant sky

It asserted itself on me
drew me like a fish fishing
the man thrashing

You’d think a part of me
would know about mirages
in the desert

But I needed to touch
the wound
and not the story of the wound

So I began the descent
with no dragons or wizards
or helpers other than lizards

and my sole companions:
Death and all my loves

we said the unspoken things
that needed to find a purchase
in the open air
so it could float on up
and meet the sun

Too far, too far.
No, go the distance.

Which powers in me were having this debate?

I climbed down
sliding over sandstone
through shadows and stories
found and gave forgiveness
empty of stomach, full of purpose

Too late to turn back now
I must touch the wound
not the story of the wound

Arriving at noon
my thirst stretched out like dune devils

the sun hovered
an inch from my forehead
like a rune foretelling
troubling things

My feet found cracked mud.

It was no lake. It was not pink
but white like skeleton–
Dry evidence of the gash.

The only water came from my face
forced by the realization:

the stories, my god
how much I’d wasted with stories
of the wound
and not the wound itself.

I blessed it with the final tear.

Dry and new, I turned
towards the arduous ascent
with swollen tongue, swollen heart

with my companions:
Death and all my loves,
including myself

-Ryan Van Lenning

Note: The phrasing of the title of this poem is influenced by Wallace Stevens’s Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself and Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck:
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth