“Pilgrims of the Mound” by Conal Abatangelo

Shadowland by Arthur Lawrence, painting of shadowy bird-like figures flying toward a mountain or volcano

Image: “Shadowland” by Arthur Lawrence. “Pilgrims of the Mound” was written by Conal Abatangelo for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2023, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Conal Abatangelo


after Genbakukuyōtō

By the riverbank, where the herons
no longer fed, for lack of food
and lack of herons, they pulled bodies
from the water until the days began
to drop low in the horizon. If the sky
cleared, the cloud remained, and near
to the ground, the sun bloomed
dimmer than all the summers
before. There came a rain like night
which swallowed all colors, painting
in ash where ash had not been. Exhumed,
exhausted, returned to the land. The workers,
even as they buried, began too to drop
dead. In the coming weeks, the months,
the long years, a whole people became
a vault, a chapel, then the mound.
The line of ghosts unburying itself
each time a bomb speaks, even if no one will
listen for it.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2023, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the series editor, Megan O’Reilly: “I found the poet’s use of language so unexpected as to be mesmerizing–I kept rereading phrases to savor them, and to marvel at how artfully and accurately they capture aspects of Arthur Lawrence’s ‘Shadowland.’ The rich but muted hues of the image are reflected in the phrase ‘a rain like night / which swallowed all the colors,’ and I was moved by the description ‘a line of ghosts unburying itself’ in relation to the crowd of figures in ‘Shadowland.’ I think the phrase ‘a bomb speaks’ is the one which will haunt me most–the idea of a bomb having a voice and something to say is an unsettling truth. Truth is something neither poem nor image shy away from, and I think that’s why they create such a resonant harmony.”

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