The year that I died,
Saladin at Al-Karak strode in through gaping archways.
Karak's echoing hallways were not then so undefended,
but the sky was as empty,
as impenetrable and deep and as deeply blue,
and as deeply blue and empty as the sky over Khatan Tuul
in the year that I died.
She is an almost worthy lord:
she sucks the willows through her long, splayed fingers,
and the sturgeon dart in and out,
piercing her belly where she over-boldly bares it to the sky;
the sky is a window that looks through itself,
a mirror that paints my secrets on the faded grass
more vibrantly as my search moves east.
I was turned inside out by the sky
in the year that I died,
and my name became the steppes;
my bright hope became the Altai and my hate Baikal,
and Sakhalin was all that amounted of my purpose.
But Saladin tore forward,
fueled by the condensed flame in his own belly.
There were flames that year,
when my lord turned inside out
and his insides were nothing but meat,
meat and terror and the desire to be covered,
painted over with saffron and jade.
I am a painter
and his bones burnt up, and every arrow
was the arrow that opened me to the blue-razor Eye.
I felt my armor peel like skin,
and I faced forward.
My body was left at Al-Karak,
my doors burned to ash and my ashes blown westward,
the idea of a fortress,
with nothing to echo but the faded grass.
If Saladin comes again to Al-Karak,
let him flow in like winnowed grain;
let him fit doors to my doorways and meat to my bones.
I will paint him emerald as a virelai;
I will paint him vermilion as an Atlantic sky,
and he will fill me with his name,
with hate and with hopes piercing bright,
like the scales of sturgeon,
sucking me in with the vacuous blue that precedes the flame.
Khatan Tuul and the sky reflect each other,
transparent and impenetrable,
beyond the Altai,
Now I dart between the willows and unfold across the steppes;
now I am vast and animated.
But if Saladin comes again to Al-Karak,
doors will fly up against the sky.
I am a painter