by Mike Allen
Sisyphus lifts the thighbone of a god
Above his head (a bone thick and long as
A felled tree) and begins his trudge
Across the hard-packed dust.
Spills of silver fluid blanket uneven stone,
Not pooling in hollows but spreading in
Thin film atop the ground, slick sheets
Draped over surface, that part rather than
Splash as Sisyphus steps through.
Pipes, metal, ceramic, cracked, of
Unpredictable diameter rise from valley floor
As breathing tubes from water; some protrude
Through mounds of bone. Ragged
Openings echo voices from some
Place deep below, their syllables
Forming no language Sisyphus knows.
Sheer black rock bluffs rise from the plain,
Jagged walls carving empty ocean basin
Into this bewildering maze where Sisyphus
Is never lost as he walks, titan bone
Balanced over head, around and over other
Cyclopean remains, charred pelvises or ribs,
A jaw bone that rocks itself, still eager to speak,
Fingers long as Sisyphus' legs crooking
Come Hither. Sisyphus has seen all before
From these bleak walls towers rise, not built
So much as grown, or eroded, stalagmites
Stabbing into oilslick sky. At intervals,
Massed clusters rise as castles, their rough
Battlements riddled with windows, round portholes
Peppered at random, even bored into unsculpted
Bluffs; sometimes faces peer from them,
Bestial visages, or smooth masks, or things
Much more indistinct. They never speak, and in
A blink have gone. On them, Sisyphus
Wastes no wonder.
Shadows in the maze constantly change,
Thrown by whatever arch the spines of the sun
Choose to sweep as it twists and squirms
Cross-sky, a glowing wyrm whose radiance
Brings no heat, its soft progress sometimes
Thwarted by coils of sickly rainbow cloud,
Sometimes whipped along in eddies
of a firmament where colors never blend.
Like Sisyphus the sun never settles or sets,
Merely strains against confinement, thrashing
To all compass points and back again.
Sisyphus remembers a moon, complex
Mobile of cold beauty, intricate pieces that
Spun and interwove; but like the night,
It's banished; he can't remember when
he last saw it shimmer above.
Pushing against the grain of a wind
That sucks and blows as breath,
Sisyphus arrives at last at neat fields
Carved at random by castle shadows.
This is his destination, though no place of rest.
Among the ordered rows of bone
He walks, until he comes to a tract where
Parts of a behemoth skeleton
Lie ceremonially on the ground,
Arranged as one should be;
Shoulders above ribs, feet below knees;
Gingerly, he lowers thighbone into place.
No arms yet, no hands, no head.
Sisyphus walks away, with countless
More bones to search among
To find and collect the right ones.
Once this god is together again,
Perhaps it will tell him why it placed
Him here, why night never comes,
Whether Sisyphus has at last
Repaid his long-forgotten debt.
And if it has no such to say,
then he will begin again
with another one.
Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. Nineteen of Mike's poems have been nominated for the award, and one so far has won: "Epochs in Exile," co-written with Charles Saplak, now available in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005. His newest poetry collections, Disturbing Muses and Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, are both available from Wildside Press.
His favourite fruit? Apples, preferably golden.