Mudlark Poster No. 156 (2018)

Labyrinths: To Borges

by John Valentine

Abraham and Isaac

A late night call, the resounding
whisper. Preparations began

immediately. A staff, the blade,
determination. Heads full of

trust and confusion. How many fathers
on the road? How many sons? Directly

to Moriah. Lightning in the glare of
duty. Rain for the meek. A strange

wind where nothing stirred. An altar.
Agony of renunciation. And when

the boy looked up he saw the steel in
his father’s eyes. A promise lost,

a storm. Everything fading to darkness.
But suddenly, they rose and rejoiced.

Bewildered. Confused. They ran, they
staggered, they walked in sunshine and

shadow, together, all the way home, all
the way back to their love.


Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.
                              — Job 13:15

Astigmatism, the enigma of mystics,
eyes turned inward, concave,

to the walls of the Occipital. The
mind reeling. Mural of hope

and despair, palimpsest, traces
of transcendence breaking

through. How he longed for love.
Even the greatest pain spoke

of more. Glorious suffering.
And we, the outsiders, the

seers of shadows, shall we say
God was there? Madness?

See how dust covers the bones.
See how desire is always a dream.


The condition of everything tends toward the condition of silence.
                                      —Charles Wright

Everything collapsed. Gold fillings,
piles of glasses, shoes.

A camp whistle screaming, infallible,
always on time.

The sound of string quartets. Mozart
at the gate. Men here, women

and children there. Showers. All night
the sound of trains. Inexorable

clocks. Relentless, broken. Liberators then with
horror caught in their throats, like falling

into hell. Days when the bones rattled. Days
of blood and ash. Days when the wind

stopped and nothing, nothing could be heard
but silence.

The Last Soldier Killed in Vietnam

for Tim O’Brien

South or north, the rich delta wet
with rice, mountains under

a bloodshot moon, inscrutable eye.
Beaches like smallpox, gouged

by ordnance, still exploding.
Insinuations of a shadow, there

and not there, somewhere in
the highlands, everywhere,

nowhere. The last soldier killed
still drifting in the dawn, the fog.

The last bullet, you can almost see it,
the sudden tracer round, furiously

flashing, then gone, leaving nothing,
not even a trace. Nothing now.

Only the dry pages, cracked, memory’s
lost leaves. Hearts still searching

the stars, the dark jungles, the restless
winds of war.

John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.