Moving in the cool cellar gloom
Among the dusty bulbs and withered tubers
Of last year’s old dispensation,
I marveled at their mummy masquerade:
Dry as death, their brittle skin flaking
Under my curious fingers, there they lay.
Half-burnt embers of a secret fire.
All in a heap, helpless, taking up space
I could have used to store the jars of preserves
That clutter the floor like minuscule burial urns
Standing solemn and still in the cellar gloom.
I wondered at their secret, curious sleep
(Of the bulbs, I mean) and at their deathlessness.
I thought of the warm spring winds
Fanning their hidden fire into blazes of bloom
Along the garden path, now buried in snow.
I stood for a while, alone in the cellar’s chill.
Like one who has stumbled into an ancient tomb
And hears, watchful and still in the waiting dark.
The quick restless racing of his heart.
Incongruous among the slumbering kings.
Suddenly I knew my work was done.
Rather, it would wait for another day
When, sad with the madness of the upstairs world
And burdened with things that simply had to be done,
I’d come to the cellar just to putter about.
Doing really nothing—you might call it play;
Until the curious stillness of the bulbs
Reminds me that I am a stranger here
Among these sleeping roots and drowsing things.
Then, not unhappily, I’ll slip upstairs.
Ready to face the madness and the light.
The cellar’s a place to play in, not to stay in.
—James M. Deschene