The Land of Geometrics: an Old Story

—poems written on the paintings of David Knowlton


This is sterile landscape broken only by a few
clouds etched against cerulean, a line of sea, a faint
shape of sails going away.  The shadows come from
what would be the northwest, if this place
of geometrics was laid out by compass.  And
why wouldn’t it be?  Dark green and burgundy mark
squares laid out, small on the sides, large
in the center, leading to a two-story arch—of triumph?
—the top arch fragile, ethereal to show how
ephemeral is such architectural celebration.  Only the sails
tell us of inhabitants, in this case, apparently
going away.  But for what reason did they leave
what Euclid would call a land predicated
on “beauty bare?”  Was that not enough?  And
the truncated spires (trophies of the destruction
of some religion dear to the inhabitants?) lead
away to the sea.  And so, perhaps, they are leaving
this land of Beauty, sore at heart for its source.


We found the story of how those others
sailed here  etched on the walls.
“We sailed in from the east
where light clouds were coming
up the sky, our ships, large
sails first, their jibs behind.
Seeing the dome a long ways out
we tacked in seeing the spires emerging
behind the dome, leading who knew where—
or for what purpose.  After we landed
we tentatively stepped through the door
to find arches opening out to south,
east and west, though the spires leading away
seemed to say, Go south.  And so we did.
Taking our supplies we trod the great eight-pointed,
black and green stars inlaid in mauve squares
as far as we could see.”


They may have found the great, wide aqueducts already built
and so large that, inland, they built ships, used
the aqueducts for roads, where sails, like the cypresses
along their verges, were seen as if disembodied.
But how did they disembark?  We only wonder.
And the black obelisks.  What did they mean—
stark against the golden stone and ground
—even the golden bricks of the aqueduct, stark
against the too blue sky, the white clouds?
Do they commemorate a death—or many—
as in ancient battles?  And are the many bodies
in a common grave below the stones
that form their bases, perhaps to keep them inviolate?
From whom, or what?  There is no enemy
here, except ourselves.  Even among us now
arise small conflicts that keep growing.
Will our history parallel theirs and,
we can only surmise, kill so many
that, finally, our remnant will also sail away
never looking back, saying:  this place
is haunted, hungry?


Here arches within arches within arches give
a view of another aqueduct and of the moonlight
on the floor from the closest, biggest moon
of four.  In the distance is what seems
to be a castle of right angles with one
small domed tower.  It is hard to tell
from this graceful room with a view
if it is a ruin or still in use,
if it is or was a fortification.  It doesn’t
seem to fit with the rest of the structures
we’ve stumbled on—all empty yet still
beautiful.  But this castle means business
in most lands—sieges, battering rams, flame
throwers, starvation, sickness, even plague—just
when we thought, at last, we were forever free of all that.
Now we simply stand, wondering where to go next,
what to do in this vast empty land.

—Peg Lauber, Eau Claire, WI