Zemi -- Charles Cantalupo

"For every king hath his particular zemes, which he honoreth."
Purchas his Pilgrimage (1613)

Forgetting kings, queens, and fear, this zemi
Honors, reveals and joins the urge to read
Its materials slowly between you and me:

Wood, bone, cotton, gold, tar, shell, coastal seed,
Mirrors for ears, conquering and conquered,
Glass in shades of drying blood and sea, need

Tied to vote, I am, four continents per word,
Invisible net, smooth stone, compressed mass
Of breasts and balls with eyes, openings toward

Other worlds, with hair in the spirit of grass
And wings that never fly except as dust.
Stands taken on paper by the compass

Within and working by heart shouldn't trust
This zemi. Choosing what could be different,
Pain redeemed, storms of vision that two hands must

Write, theater that stares and half language spent
On half poetry of nobody's son
And nobody's sleep except to represent

The unsayable object to someone
Won't do. Backing into our own symbols
For style, the ultimate superstition —

Meaning meaning — and economies full
Of gifts secured only with bad pennies
And their cost — our youth — still miss the circle

Of the fifth direction in this zemi.
We mistake destruction and brutal names
For politics to dominate blindly

Inward and inward to pieces without shame:
Woman only an ax, man a dagger,
And children reduced to more of the same.

The zemi also wore this studded collar
And carved out its center without knowing why,
For whom, when or according to whose star.

Engraved elbows, hammock bodies, and big eyes
Pulled out down to our ribs reveal we share
Something more moving in this zemi.

Unfinished, modern, and our field everywhere
Between home and migration like root and
Flower, we unfold, fold and blend our cares

To struggle — entangled to understand —
That displace precedes place, remade made
And transverse verse, with drums pouring like sand

Out of a music like innocence played
After being long buried. We take tools
And frames to recreate create to fade

Into pictures of new meaning and not the rules
Of our enemies to be less or more
Human, as if that could change and fool

Change itself, this zemi or other ancestors
In the rafters' gourds and in the brown ghost
We try to glue together from before.

Exposed to death by love and maybe lost,
Soaked and lit like a gasoline, and speech
Like an emergency room in us — a cut, post-

Family tree with all the branches in reach —
We recognize five clicks moving back our lips
Into the zemi in us we beseech.

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