A new knowledge

Tikal

                     It was like
                    A new knowledge of reality.

                                                     Wallace Stevens

As evening falls,
    so too, the relentless rain, the air
        dense with the stench of rotting
    vegetation. I am typing a letter to
        myself and there are children all

around me,
    curious to see the neat rows of black letters
        appear on the crisp white paper. So few
    typewriters make it to the forest depths.
        The rain does not ease and I’m

sitting now
    in the restaurant run by an elderly Chinaman
        who is desperate to buy my wristwatch.
    There are candles on the tables and they
        splutter and die as clouds of termites

envelope them:
    they are relit and die again, charred termites
        trapped in the smouldering wax. It is almost
    impossible to talk through these flurries of insects
        that find their way into ears and mouths

and nostrils.
    Mortality borne on frail white wings. An ancient
        city quarried from limestone lies now in ruins.
    a place of visitation rather than a centre of celebration.
        The Mayan time wheel halted in its tracks.

At dawn
    the mists rise above the temple pyramids, monkeys
        haul themselves over dilapidated walls, and deer
    and tapirs roam freely; wild turkeys scavenge
        in the undergrowth, unperturbed by the raucous

caw of toucans
    and parrots in the branches above. No human
        prayer will bring this city back to life.
    Nature has regained control: or rather, one life has
       surrendered to another in all its tacit mystery.

14 October 2004

John Lyons

Drawn to the light

At night in the forest in Tikal
        when it rained, clouds of termites
took shelter in our huts : we had
        only candlelight and the insects
blinded by its heartless beauty swirled
        around the flaming wicks

Some of these frail creatures
        with their long thin paper wings
were instantly singed, and dropped
        helplessly onto the table
while others self-immolating
        were burnt almost to a cinder
as they smothered
        the murderous flame

and in the darkness
        in the silence, the dense
whirling cloud flew off
        leaving the charred remains
of their dead in the cold
        congealed wax

John Lyons

Tikal remembered

Tikal remembered

Those sultry nights I slept
           in the rain forest in Tikal
lying in a hammock
           watching the fireflies flit
back and forth
           listening to the owls
I would think of the temples
           I had explored during the day
and how the forest
           had closed in on the past
and regained its territory
           how everywhere
the thick roots of plants
           were prizing the stonework
apart causing the masonry
           to crumble 
mostly reducing the once proud city
           to rubble

and through
           the frail morning mists
deer and monkeys could seen
           roaming the grounds
at the base of the great pyramid
           indifferent to the sculpted
limestone stelae upon which
           the Mayans had recorded
pivotal moments from their history
           : and at night lying
in the hammock
           I remember asking myself
what I was doing
           so far from home and love
and whose history
           was I really exploring

John Lyons