Rikki Ducornet's seventh novel, Gazelle, was published in cloth by Knopf in 2003 and in paperback by Anchor in 2004. She is currently working on a series of paintings inspired by alchemy and collections cabinets, as well as writing a novel about the Algerian War. She recently received the Lannan Award for Fiction (2004).
On the Hottest of Afternoons
We came wanting
the ‘marvelous knowledge’
the blue evening eggs, radiant
desirable as alphabets
beginning and ending
with the letter ‘A.’
The eggs. Prodigious.
Round as the sphere of the moon.
And everywhere the air
amethyst with pollen
tusked with wings.
In our dream of the past a cheetah is trained to hunt gazelles. She comes when called. She lets fall the body at her master’s feet where it lies spread out like a wing. The trees studded with eggs. Glowing like the heart. Keeping their immense secret. Their simple faces directed towards the sky.
The vigorous, the joyful, the voluptuous eggs
lit up like candles
as flammable as parrots
waiting for the breeze
their feet nailed to the uncertain weather.
Silent, the eggs
bring to mind those vowels
that by their very nature are silent.
Somewhere between sunlight and shade
such vowels are said to be hidden.
‘To vanish’ in a forest without rain.
Like the forest itself, the alphabet we wanted was called ‘complete.’
There are letters as round as planets, coiled
knotted into fists, similar to crystals, and like embers
glowing from within. Called ‘hot.’
Others feed upon the ambient light.
Named ‘catastrophic.’ Purposefully inaccessible.
Some letters are slightly bent or ‘beaked.’
Said to ‘tear the air.’
Others resemble a fly, a spider, a ‘bee.’
Sweet on the tongue. Named irresistible. Sticky with seeds.
The cherry-colored vowels of ecstatic pleasure
painted to the skin of the throat and tasted.
In this way embodied.
We came eager to see
the ladder of nature
bright as glass. A wing
rising to the moon.
The parrots hanging like fruit from the branches.
The jaguars no bigger than a flame.
To see the cheetah, the neck of the gazelle
held between her teeth like a sacred letter.
The fleshy, the flamboyant eggs. Blue as thunder.
Fluid as syllables sitting on a branch
said to fly off 'with a clatter.'
Were there a place to fly
on the hottest of afternoons.
Vigorous. Thrilling. Flammable.
The Byzantine air bright with man-made molecules.
But all things are the same to fire.
Sawdust rising from her nostrils
the cheetah sits on her hands.
Their feet tied with string, the macaws
are as silent as anchovies.
The fair, foul-weather eggs, one hundred million or more
crammed into one cubic mile detonating like gunfire.
Beneath the painted ceiling, love’s seven names
melt like candles. Cherubs soar without a body.
The sacred, we were told, needs no body.
And the vines!
The vines climbing to the sun
as though their lives depended on it.