Gargoyle 11
cover etching by Scott McIntyre
publication date 5/25/1979


Things Fall Apart

James Maher

The return trip always takes forever
through stubble of mountains       woods
and swamps        or corn without end

I tire of the train’s windows and the
camera’s lens       Cows in the pasture scratch
on fences     The sun sets hastily

in black and white    but I can’t
sleep      The tracks are straight as
God’s spine      I look at history books

and study a map of the Roman Empire at its
highest tide     and I remember hearing
how the living now outnumber the

dead      here in America we can
outvote them      The train comes to the
end of the line and enters a tunnel

and at the other end a few stars
come out:      beasts that held past
and future under white paws until

expanding telescopes dismantled them bone
by bone       leaving us only one frontier:
the peaks and canyons in the hemispheres

of our own heads       And to spite
all the expedition and X rays
all the wagon trains and group therapies

at best we’re still crouched in a cave
passing myth by firelight      and watching
our shadows swoon against the walls


So did the world from the first hour decay
though we have tried to bind it
with the sticky blood of slain lambs

with alchemical compounds      mud pies
glue-all     The centre cannot hold     We take
gravity for granted ever since the apple’s

fall we have forgotten how to
appease it     we have forgotten to
believe in the moment it will let us

go      We are living in the old age
of the world      rocks are gummed down
to beaches      the folds of the earth relax

The air is gray with snow     we scent it
and begin to run      to clothe our lives
in rudiments     to follow the paths of

water        finding always a lower
level        we sleep by the mouths of
rivers     The ocean fills every space


Things go crazy at the end of every
millennium       In the year 999
there was a sharp rise in churchgoing

witch-hunting      confession      conversion:
packs of Huns driven into the Danube for
baptism      Today I turn on the radio and

get nothing but static     at every frequency
the sound of rain     wind     snow     This
is today’s weather report     God is

cranking His voice toward a pitch     My dog
paws his ears and whines      I strain
to think about eternity:     static     This

is a journey I’m not ready for      This
is the return      I know I’ll forget
something       I fall asleep and dream:

I lean from the Twentieth Century as from
a great tower and watch all of skittery
civilization from Pinocchio to Cain

and everywhere snow is falling on the round
fleecy Earth as God gathers his aeons of
breath     makes a wish    and hunkers down