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Eleanor Wilner

by
 It was a pure white cloud that hung there
in the blue, or a jellyfish on a waveless
sea, suspended high above us; we were
the creatures in the weeds below.
It seemed so effortless in its suspense, perfectly out of time and out of place like the ghost of moon in the sky of a brilliant afternoon.
After a while it seemed to grow, and we inferred that it was moving, drifting down— though it seemed weightless, motionless, one of those things that defy the ususal forces—gravity, and wind and the almost imperceptible pressure of the years.
But it was coming down.
The blur of its outline slowly cleared: it was scalloped at the lower edge, like a shell or a child's drawing of a flower, detached and floating, beauty simplified.
That's when we saw it had a man attached, suspended from the center of the flower, a kind of human stamen or a stem.
We thought it was a god, or heavenly seed, sent to germinate the earth with a gentler, nobler breed.
It might be someone with sunlit eyes and mind of dawn.
We thought of falling to our knees.
So you can guess the way we might have felt when it landed in our field with the hard thud of solid flesh and the terrible flutter of the collapsing lung of silk.
He smelled of old sweat, his uniform was torn, and he was tangled in the ropes, hopelessly harnessed to the white mirage that brought him down.
He had a wound in his chest, a red flower that took its color from his heart.
We buried him that very day, just as he came to us, in a uniform of soft brown with an eagle embroidered on the sleeve, its body made of careful gray stitches, its eye a knot of gold.
The motto underneath had almost worn away.
For days, watching from our caves, we saw the huge white shape of silk shifting in the weeds, like a pale moon when the wind filled it, stranded, searching in the aimless way of unmoored things for whatever human ballast gave direction to their endless drift.

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