The boy in the labyrinth sits with his knees to his chest. The skyâ€”so far. In his chest, the isthmus between here and not here tugs its knot through the heart muscle. A heavy lub-dub sparks its tiny fire. His eyes on the sky and his body aflame on the inside. Still, the only real crisis is the keening of the beast as it flits somewhere between an actual orbit and the boy’s imagination. The beast is in an elsewhere place. A place full of harmonies and dark. And yet, the boy’s iris full of light cannot represent forgetfulness, the tension that tugs the end of a string. Water’s allegro as a thawed stream gleams. The peculiar quality of the sky and the beams coming at a slant depict an aspect of time. A duration of loss.
The boy in the labyrinth sees the boy in the sky. The boy above the labyrinth has a face full of shadow. His face is obscured. The sun shines from behind and the shadow from the boy above the labyrinth covers the face of the boy in the labyrinth. Above and below. And between the two boys a heavy breath. Between them, a chasm of darkness passed as though their tongues had passed a small stone from each to each. You are a boy, says the boy in the labyrinth. The boy above the labyrinth says nothing. A long silence between the two boys. Send for help, says the boy in the labyrinth. The boy above does not move. The boy beneath the boy in the sky is covered in shadow.
The boy in the labyrinth is covered in the shadow of another boy. The outline of the boy in the sky’s head obscures the sunbeam. And in so doing, the boy in the labyrinth is within the shadow of another boy’s head as though the boy in the labyrinth were the inner-working parts of the sky boy’s mind. I am the brains, says the boy in the labyrinth. The boy in the sky says nothing, only shakes his head from side to side. You cannot get rid of your brains, says the boy in the labyrinth. Above, the boy in the sky covers his eyes and thus the shadow of his arms becomes part of the shadow of his headâ€”his shadow looking as if it had grown its own arms. Within the shadowed head and arms, the boy in the labyrinth says I am the boy in the labyrinth. And within you, watch me swim.
The boy in the labyrinth swims in shadow. The shadow, from a form cast beyond. And beyond the labyrinth, nothing but sky. The boy in the sky looks down on all he sees in the labyrinth but, having occluded the light with the back of his head, sees nothing. I am swimming in your mind, says the boy in the labyrinth. To which the boy in the sky says nothing. There is nothing to be said to nothing. The air of the maze reeks of beastly breath. The air between boys, equally still. Long hours pass looking at nothing. Hearing nothing. The heart swallows a sizeable pill. The bone marrow pushes its little cells into the bloodstream. In the maze, the one bright spot is swallowed by a silhouette.
The boy in the labyrinth, in the one bright spot, looks up. He sees the shadow boy. The sky boy. The boy who looks and says nothing. A long silence passes between, which has always been their relationshipâ€”the silence between mouths like a set of empty parenthesis. Evening and morning and evening again. Time in the maze is as time is out of the maze. Leaves appear, brighten, and disappear into peripheries. And into the cold yaw of the underground caverns, autumn in grand and blustery gusts. The boy and the boy not speaking. Only their mutual shadows. From above. From down below. And during their mutual silence, the black breath of the beast fills the gaps between their parentheticals. In vaporous bursts, the minotaur’s hot snort churns the calm.
The boy in the labyrinth listens. He listens keenly. He has grown used to the dark. And in the spaces of his breathing, his spatial relations break, ice floes in a labyrinthian sea. What sounds solid in front of him doesn’t connect with what he sees. The connection to being lost as happening to one externally and internally. Just as beauty is a matter of value. The caverns where the boy is lost are beautiful, but in the darkness, he cannot see them. Therefore, they have become all the more beautiful. There are events and events, and there is something to mean. The boy’s breath coming in circles extends with this belief: that there is beauty in the dark spaces. Hear its hoof. Hear its song.
The boy in the labyrinth concentrates. To make oneself frightfully small in the face of imminent danger . . . to collapse into one’s beating heart. To eschew the body takes a toll. And so the boy imagines that sanctuary is a dwelling, safe beneath his insides. He imagines its white-lined walls, bedecked in candles and warmth. The dark smudge of smoke residue resides on the periphery, black and corpulent. But here is safety. Here is the frontier, steady and incremental. There is no beast place in the within. There is no room for the hooves. No room for such animal violence.
The boy in the labyrinth turns in the shaky air. He makes his own current. His own vortex. Perhaps the cavern receding, one passage into the next, canâ€™t contain the boy as he tornados in place. How spun, the world. The rooms of the maze are adorned identically. And among the identical rooms, perhaps god dwells. Perhaps the beast dwells, having multiple nests. And in such dwellings, the boy is spun–eyes dart right to left, right to left. The wheel of his breath leaves his body. Rises up from his chest out of his mouth. The soft salt at the edge of his lips cools into a gritty cake. The labyrinth turns in circles. In the boy’s vortex, dust twirls in the updraft.
The boy in the labyrinth circles back. The boy has no memory of this place. It’s as if night had just fallen and what is understood laces into the underground streams. What is understood recedes in the cold distance. At this point, the way is forgotten. At this point what is distal and what is proximal is indistinct. What the boy feels inside sets a spike into his jaw. His tender mouth, bitten. Teeth drive their edges against his cheek. Hollow: the boy feels hollowed out. As if dogwood blossoms, filled with implicit promises, had been turned wrong side out. How the error of what is on the inside is held outward and raw. And still the heavy kick drum of the bull-man’s gait shakes the boy’s gut. Still the labyrinth gathers its boundaries in redundant corridors.
The boy in the labyrinth peers around redundant corners. Jags and outcroppings cast sharp shadows against themselves. The quarried marble of the netherworld taken back to the surface leaves all the glamour of a mouth. And the salt is fresh on the boy’s lips. The salt is a consistent taste. It’s stirred from the minerals dripping from the limestone stalactites. Still, the boy knows that he is not with the sea. Here, there are fat, decorous phantoms which shred thin light from the boy’s torch into vigorous impastos. Shadow upon black upon shadow. And what riches reside here gleam to an interior treble.
The boy in the labyrinth understands the treble. Understands what peals from the interior. The door arches and lapsed passageways stretch beyond. And what collapses with the distance is the truest sound. The sound’s purity stretched thin as red thread pulled taut from a spool. How the spool’s weight dissipates as though the weight was taken up by the air. Oh, how the air feels to the boy, as the note rings clear in his ears. How heavy and salty the air. He can feel the ocean sifting between the caverns. Can feel the tides pull at the stone sides as the foundation of where he stands recedes and recedes.
The boy in the labyrinth watches light recede from his torch. The strip of cloth bound tightly to the head of a stick. The wick’s fuel slips in sappy lozenges. Small knuckles of fuel flame on in ellipsis. The way lit as if in mid-thought. And what else recedes? The feel of salt and ocean mist on the boy’s face. The idea that beneath it all resides an ocean. Within the earth’s belly. Within the boy. And here he would find the minotaur, sullen, bored. His lungs filled with silica and ground human bone. The flicker of light tosses bits of his head in thick black shadows. Those shadows deepening to outrageous depths.
The boy in the labyrinth watches those shadows deepen. The outrage of their movements mimics the torch’s flame. Embers snap from the centers in extravagant suicides. And the beast stirs. The beast, who is half a body, gives himself over to rage. The aeolianic center cradles his roar. Pushes it through its cylindrical hallways so that the beast’s sound carries mass. And his animal shout cleaves the bedding-plane into flakes of sharp sediment that hum to his sound. Chipped rocks shift along their flat sides. It is a low sound the beast makes.
Oliver de la Paz is the author of three books of poetry:Â Names Above Houses,Â Furious Lullaby, andÂ Requiem for the Orchard. He is the co-editor of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona PoemsÂ and the co-chair ofÂ Kundiman.org‘s advisory board. He teaches at Western Washington University.
Two of the poems in this sequence, Labyrinth 34 and Labyrinth 37, first appeared in Eye of the Telescope.