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The Ancient World

by
 Today the Masons are auctioning 
their discarded pomp: a trunk of turbans, 
gemmed and ostrich-plumed, and operetta costumes 
labeled inside the collar "Potentate" 
and "Vizier.
" Here their chairs, blazoned with the Masons' sign, huddled like convalescents, lean against one another on the grass.
In a casket are rhinestoned poles the hierophants carried in parades; here's a splendid golden staff some ranking officer waved, topped with a golden pyramid and a tiny, inquisitive sphinx.
No one's worn this stuff for years, and it doesn't seem worth buying; where would we put it? Still, I want that staff.
I used to love to go to the library -- the smalltown brick refuge of those with nothing to do, really, 'Carnegie' chiseled on the pediment above columns that dwarfed an inconsequential street.
Embarrassed to carry the same book past the water fountain's plaster centaurs up to the desk again, I'd take The Wonders of the World to the Reading Room where Art and Industry met in the mural on the dome.
The room smelled like two decades before I was born, when the name carved over the door meant something.
I never read the second section, "Wonders of the Modern World"; I loved the promise of my father's blueprints, the unfulfilled turquoise schemes, but in the real structures you could hardly imagine a future.
I wanted the density of history, which I confused with the smell of the book: Babylon's ziggurat tropical with ferns, engraved watercourses rippling; the Colossus of Rhodes balanced over the harbormouth on his immense ankles.
Athena filled one end of the Parthenon, in an "artist's reconstruction", like an adult in a dollhouse.
At Halicarnassus, Mausolus remembered himself immensely, though in the book there wasn't even a sketch, only a picture of huge fragments.
In the pyramid's deep clockworks, did the narrow tunnels mount toward the eye of God? That was the year photos were beamed back from space; falling asleep I used to repeat a new word to myself, telemetry, liking the way it seemed to allude to something storied.
The earth was whorled marble, at that distance.
Even the stuck-on porticoes and collonades downtown were narrative, somehow, but the buildings my father engineered were without stories.
All I wanted was something larger than our ordinary sadness -- greater not in scale but in context, memorable, true to a proportioned, subtle form.
Last year I knew a student, a half mad boy who finally opened his arms with a razor, not because he wanted to die but because he wanted to design something grand on his own body.
Once he said, When a child realizes his parents aren't enough, he turns to architecture.
I think I know what he meant.
Imagine the Masons parading, one of them, in his splendid get-up, striding forward with the golden staff, above his head Cheops' beautiful shape -- a form we cannot separate from the stories about the form, even if we hardly know them, even if it no longer signifies, if it only shines.

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