This poem was drafted at Edinboro, PA, many years ago. It resisted completion. Poe's poem of the same title was in my head, and there was a vision of a mysterious city rising from the ice of Edinboro Lake, but nothing could reconcile the Conquistador setting of Poe's poem with the cold, glacial lake of Edinboro, a chill winter night with the trees covered with an edging of snow, the lake frozen. The poem remains so intensely personal, so much about one unnamed passion, that I still do not know what to make of it. Yet it will give me no peace until I have worked the gold out of it.
I searched the angry street
and the dismal forest gloom,
I spanned the globe, and yet
no one has shown me Eldorado!
Who, gaily bedight,
has seen the golden walls,
its ingot walks,
in the soft effuse
of a Mexican sunset?
Who, amid the mango groves
and phosphorescent parrots
shall tread the wayward avenues
of burnished gold,
beneath a golder moon?
Are they dead, those feathered, tawny men,
those speakers of Mayan tongues,
those carvers of
Who has closed the great earth
and silenced the horns
Who has been there and returned? —
madmen and dreamers!
One night on the shore of a lake,
(a Northern lake, no hint of summer!)
as I lay
in a bed of warm, expiring leaves
a low voice whispered:
Silence is the road to Eldorado...
Then, one December night
we walked, we two
(I thought you were the one foretold)
on an incredible avenue
of snow-filled trees
cupolas filled with myriad crystals,
a fractal fractured spiderweb of ice
and there, in that unbroken loneliness
in a stillness so still
we could hear the trees inhale,
we watched, touched finger to finger,
as on the frozen lake three spires arose
and out of the ice great glimmering stones
climbed up. The moon blushed. The breeze
caught its breath. It had always been there
and had only to be called
by the stillness of two not speaking,
falling into the abyss of dead irises
and conjunct heartbeat. Eldorado!
How long did it remain there,
where any passing stranger might
have stepped beyond its threshhold
into glory and untold riches?
Only so long as we said nothing
did it burn the backs of our eyes,
gilding our brains with memories.
And only so long as I never said
I loved you, was it as real as this,
as tangible as mirror glass, as cold
as frozen steel, and yet as barred from us
as though a dragon flamed up
between us and El Dorado.
Call it Eldorado,
city of dread truth and light, harbor of the mind,
city built out yet built by no one.
If I show you my Eldorado, make clear its walls
and towers from the fog, would you step into it?
Can it be real
while being all that you ever dreamt?
Is its wealth in ingot and bullion,
in dead weight a dead man may carry?
Or is it the city of Ideal Men,
whose treasure is that all who inhabit it
are inherently good, virtue’s automatons,
soldiers valiant and uncorruptible?
Can it be visible to you?
Could you address them
if you have killed your heroes?
If you are so unlike the graven greats
on the walls of El Dorado,
would you know them as brethren?
Would mothers, sisters, brides and daughters
of this proud Atlantis hail you,
or avert their eyes in loathing?
Shall not this city recede from us, then?
No matter how sharp the vision, each step
toward it takes us astray or backwards.
In silence we see it clear; in speech
it grows dim and cloaks itself in fog.
If I say nothing, my hand can almost reach
to the edge of one great turreted tower.
And yet, because I love you, I say
“There is nothing there, no city.
The sun on the ice makes fools of us.
Our eyes are not to be trusted. At home,
beside our fire, beneath the blankets
of an oblivious bed, is what is real.
My hand on neck-nape, on shoulder;
your hand as I raise it to palm-kiss;
these things are gold and silver.”
Gone the city. Not one gold flake have I
to prove it ever existed. And just as gone
the ice-blind illusion of loving:
you no more knew me than you knew
a maple’s groan in the frosted air.
I have no token of your having lived.