Crocodile Prayer

“In Egypt,” says Clement of Alexandria, “the sanctuaries of the temples are shaded by curtains of golden tissue. But on going further into the interior in quest of the statue, a priest of grave aspect, advancing to meet you and chanting a hymn in the Egyptian tongue, slightly raises a veil to show you the god. And what do you behold? A crocodile, or some indigenous serpent, or other dangerous animal, the Egyptian god being a brute rolling about on a purple carpet.”

—Taine, The French Revolution

Some of us have this least glancing regard For at least the recent most of yesterday. Feel free to think us strange! As if we cared. All we care about is observing the obvious. Tonight we peek behind the purple curtain. Let subtle stay seated for the next poem. Why but as tautology, whatever’s worth Worship that overcomes not life itself? Why shouldn’t any man’s answer be easy? Why look past death? You worship yourself And death. You hardly need a third. Mere Self-worship long disguised your obvious Adapted habitat: not the Congo jungle But the Congo swamp—with obvious god The crocodile. What else reaps, beating Man’s fastest man on mud or land or water, His treeless fief like a hungry diesel? Man it’s not who sums up the sums of life, Who calipers heads for the national window. The crocodile chooses. “He alone goes bang.” And what in the end is left of Mandelstam? What about Lavoisier’s mouth-pipette? What hole’s got the socks of Lafayette? At least we are not without old Bentham— But where is Bulgakov, but a cat in a box? Which god exists but death? Death the crocodile, “A master from Germany” but not just Germany. “Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.”  A war of three crocodiles. A century’s war. “Not the Congo jungle but the Congo swamp.” The world crocodile; Crocodile Ouroboros; Full of black cancer, fat as a highway, Grayer than Nantucket, quite toothless, Jawed with an avalanche of starving gum; Calm as stone and invisible underwater, Bartender of some secret rotting larder— He hunts so seldom now, and we know why. Yet in prayer, better lit; a remarkably, Even universally, attractive figure; by no Means adored for size and appetite alone But behemoth in real character as well; Immortal, and not without a certain humor, A real critic of the edible swamp ape. “The Republic has no need of savants.” Admit it, you love him and you love death. Whoever brings home death in his teeth Is measure and majesty of enlightenment. And this is natural; no more need be said. Ave Maria, for most of four centuries now! We pray for the obvious and never receive.