The evening sun descended with the decorum of an old man
Who removes his wide brimmed hat as a funeral march passes.
August. The rivers are rising. We saw the sun vanish from our sky.
Like crows, the people of my town walk the streets, faces skyward
Searching for light as for the face of a mother.
From the ground ferns spring, fronds greening with hunger.
The river reeks of gasoline burning in her current.
Somewhere in the blackening hills a peacock hollers his blue yodel.
Your hands aint wings, a passing stranger tells me.
The sky has taken away light.
Is it punishment? the newspaper editorial asked. We thought God was dead.
Forgive us, they said. Whoever you are, forgive us.
The newspaper printed this as if God could read.
I stand here waiting for something to happen. An empty glass soda bottle
Rolls down the road, making a strange new music for this world.
The live oak’s leaves darken with each passing minute.
I watched as the people of my town tore down a man with their bare hands;
They say he stole the light with his curse. But I thought he was only talking to himself.
I, too, ask the sky, How come your hands left us?
How does the ocean feel about no light? How quiet is her bell.
My people, in the streets, the drowned faces.
A people, a piano, can’t live without light.
The newspapers say that even if we walk to the top of the mountain,
Even then we can’t reach the light.
My people gnaw for the light that lies beneath our skin.
We’ve turned to flames
Like a house burning itself from the inside out.
Our sky, bereft. Our heartmuscle, lit into blue flame.
Ansel Elkins was born in the Alabama foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Poems recently appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, The American Scholar, The Believer, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, The North American Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, a 2011 North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, and a 2012 fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society.