Rebecca Alexander

Graven Images

I lean out over the water’s edge
let the current have its way
with my reflection
a dark whiskery shape plows
the river bed like a flooded field
and in rising to the surface
turns me half-girl half-carp
the heat of the day holds its breath
as a vulture passes in front of the sun
painting a feather-petaled disc
of light in the reedy shallows

dried rivergrass makes a good stylus
and sitting on the bank
I incise my thoughts in the thickening mud
here is the life I can see—
the plants and fish and migratory turtledoves—
and the life that’s found in the spaces
between my senses
somewhere just beyond my hearing
chisels and mallets devour mountainsides
and valleys for stone
another palace another king of the universe
to praise and to placate

it is bad luck to name a city for a tyrant
a revolving wheel of army upon army
grinds the past to dust and starts anew
stone-carvers do the bidding
of fickle godlike kings
render them almond-eyed colossi
crowned with resplendent fir cones
wearing the orb of the sun
like so much jewelry
muscled winged bulls of men
guard the gates
chariots of endless war and conquest
process around the walls
trailing shackled captives
a vanguard of decorated soldiers
brandishes severed heads on pikes
but here and there is beauty

fan-leaved date palms and braids of flowing water
a vista of fish-scale-patterned hills
a backdrop to royalty
proud beards whorled
with coils like seeding cyclamen
I want to see them flower

these massive gypsum blocks
are scored to fit together
and hidden in this interstice
the artisan’s inscription:
if you must worship something
let it not be the keen blade’s edge
that sings out slaughter
let it not be the poisoned promise
of power over others
worship the light and rain coaxing life from the soil
the dry land left beneath your feet
when the floodwaters recede
the world that waits and waits
for the storm of us to settle



Rebecca Alexander is a horticulture librarian in Seattle. Her poetry has appeared in Standpoint Magazine (UK), the Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin, Canary: A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis, and Naugatuck River Review. Her artwork has been published in Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends, and Judaism.