‘Under Orion’s Heel’

Twenty-some years ago, when I was researching a project about life in Columbia, Missouri, during World War II, I came across a piece by an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt; at one point in that piece, he talked about the passage of time as marked by Earth’s turning “under Orion’s heel.” I loved the phrase and tucked it into my memory. Not too much later, I found a place for it:

Under Orion’s Heel

Noise from the freightyard down the block
Nudges at my sleep.
In my dream I see a silver clock
Waiting by a wishing well
In a land whose name I cannot spell.
A slender maid with amber eyes
Shows me how the hoping dies
For wishes thrown too deep.

The morning traffic rumbles past
The coffee shop in town.
I read the paper, front page last,
And learn of famine, plague and war.
I pay the bill, and near the door,
Investment bankers block my way.
Their hair is short; their coats are grey;
Their stocks are falling down.

So the fool turns to the audience,
And the sage turns to a book.
The hoodlums turn to violence;
The neighbors turn to look.
The grass turns brown in the winter field
And the iron turns to rust
As the earth turns under Orion’s heel
And the boulders turn to dust.

The lunchtime crowd at Nellie’s bar
Ignores the jukebox din.
The singer croons about his car.
Sam the waiter reads my face
And says “You know my sister, Grace?
Well, she just won the lottery
With the ticket that you gave to me.”
He serves me with a grin.

The office gossips mill the news
And truth is ground to dust.
The hissing of the hows and whos
Provides the background as I work,
Promoting Tim the TV Turk,
Who’s scheduled a new ad campaign.
His name is really Roger Crane.
In currency we trust.

So the fool turns to the audience,
And the sage turns to a book.
The hoodlums turn to violence;
The neighbors turn to look.
The grass turns brown in the winter field
And the iron turns to rust
As the earth turns under Orion’s heel
And the boulders turn to dust.

At night, the houses huddle ’round
The streetlight’s golden glow.
Out for a walk, I hear the sound
Of mothers hailing children in
To supper; let the feasts begin.
I imagine some homes house the grief
That comes from life without belief.
I hope I never know.

So the fool turns to the audience,
And the sage turns to a book.
The hoodlums turn to violence;
The neighbors turn to look.
The grass turns brown in the winter field
And the iron turns to rust
As the earth turns under Orion’s heel
And the boulders turn to dust.

March 6, 1991
Columbia, Mo.

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