Anno Domini 1098
Vickie Cimprich

What did you go out into the wilderness
to see? A reed swaying in the breeze?
No? Then what did you go out to
see? Matthew 11: 7

Mud rushes sway
in the wind. Marsh skin prickles
under water strider feet.
Two by two, then twelve
black eyes rise and sink by twos.

Egrets and herons
pick at edges. Through carapace traceries,
sun warms turtles on their fallen logs.
Rails’ feathers brush the round fonds
of the cistels. Nothing about
the rails or the rushes, no twitch
of a tapered stem tip
lets any hawk know anything.

First the locals and clerics called us
“the new monastery.”
Later it was noised around that it was we
who foolishly drained all the marshes.
They named us after the reeds.
Long before Cistercians came
with forks and mattocks to till,
trowels and plumbs to set stones
for the church and cloister walls,
the Duke’s serfs had the work.
Through all the country, wilderness
was some hundreds of years dwindled
to lords’ and tenants’ granges.

Choir and conversii brothers,
no longer bounden to the lords,
now will tend forest, herds and fields:
locus tunc scilicet horroris et vastae solitudinis.

From our place of vast solitude,
then and now, sinks and rises
this aghast psalmody of ours.