Katie Ford is the author of Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014). She lives in Philadelphia.
I stared at the ruin, the powder of the dead now beneath ground, a crowd assembled and breathing with indiscernible sadnesses, light from other light, far off and without explanation. Somewhere unseen the ocean deepened then and now into more ocean, the black fins of the bony fish obscuring its bottommost floor, carcasses of mollusks settling, casting one last blur of sand, unable to close again. Next to me a woman, the seventeen pins it took to set her limb, to keep every part flush with blood. * In the book on the ancient mayfly which lives only four hundred minutes and is, for this reason, called ephemeral, I couldn't understand why the veins laid across the transparent sheets of wings, impossibly fragile, weren't blown through in their half-day of flight. Or how that design has carried the species through antiquity with collapsing horses, hailstorms and diffracted confusions of light. * If I remember correctly what's missing broke off all at once, not into streets but into rows portioned off for shade as it fell here, the sun there where the poled awning ended. Didn't the heat and dust funnel down to the condemned as they fought until the animal took them completely? Didn't at least one stand perfectly still? * I said to myself: Beyond my husband there are strange trees growing on one of the seven hills. They look like intricately tended bonsais, but enormous and with unreachable hollows. He takes photographs for our black folios, thin India paper separating one from another. There is no scientific evidence of consciousness lasting outside the body. I think when I die it will be completely. * But it didn't break off all at once. It turns out there is a fault line under Rome that shook the theater walls slight quake by quake. After the empire fell the arena was left untended and exotic plants spread a massive overgrowth, their seeds brought from Asia and Africa, sewn accidentally in the waste of the beasts. Like our emptying, then aching questions, the vessel filled with unrecognizable faunas. * How great is the darkness in which we grope, William James said, not speaking of the earth, but the mind split into its caves and plinth from which to watch its one great fight. And then, when it is over, when those who populate your life return to their curtained rooms and lie down without you, you are alone, you are quarry. * When the mayflies emerge it is in great numbers from lakes where they have lived in nymphal skins through many molts. At the last a downy skin is shed and what proofed them is gone. Above water there is nothing for them to feed on— they don't even look, except for each other. They form hurried swarms in that starving, sudden hour and mate fully. When it is finished it is said the expiring flies gather beneath boatlights or lampposts and die under them minutely, drifting down in a flock called snowfall. * Nothing wants to break, but this wanted to break, built for slaughter, open arches to climb through, lines of glassless squares above, elaborate pulleys raising the animals on platforms out of the passaged darkness. When one is the site of so much pain, one must pray to be abandoned. When abandonment is that much more—beauty and terror before every witness and suddenly you are not there.
Copyright © 2008 by Katie Ford. Reprinted from Colosseum with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.