Christopher Howell

The Prince of the Fire Mountain Returns Home
January 12, 2012 Howell Christopher

The Prince of the Fire Mountain Returns Home



I remain a shadow slim as a clock hand,

moving but with movements indiscernible.

My hair has whitened and my skin,

paper-thin, can barely contain my bones.

When grain spills from my pockets

the birds carry it away.

I’ve left no trail on this long road

scrubbed of landmarks by the rain.

And who would follow me, a man

shunned by friends and enemies alike,

returning from exile

in a country of frozen lakes,

a stone house with barred windows

from which I gazed

at the molten horizon

waiting in vain for the sun to rise.

In my dark room, on a hard bed,

I could have been lying on the seafloor,

tethered to you in my dreams

by a chain of light

that each year dimmed

until it disappeared.

and I was free finally —

to be alone.



In my former life I consorted

with historians who spent decades

excavating the events of a single day;

and actuaries who recorded

births, deaths and marriages

in clear ink on glass tablets;

I dined with blind astronomers

who charted the soul’s constellations;

played Gô with beribboned generals

who conducted great battles;

felled oaks and built towers

beside rough men reeling with visions.

I lived as if my allies were without wiles,

my lovers without guile,

as if my rivals could ever be satisfied

with what was theirs, not mine.

Costly though they were,

these delusions enabled me to live

half my life with an open heart.

My credo was: What I fear, fears me.

But I hadn’t a clue

what I should really fear.



Rain falls on the sloping fields and spills

into ditches that gush into streams

that flood the rivers rushing to sea.

Waterfalls have become my waystations.

Beneath the roar of water that is a man’s life

I hear the muffled clatter of chains.

On the outskirts of my capital a final downpour

erases my tracks even before I make them.

I would gladly drown in my bath,

or in the curl of an emerald wave

rather than remain

on this road another day.



I return to my palace in the guise

of a beggar, like many a prince before me.

I find my wife in another man’s arms,

my sons dead,

my treasury emptied,

my subjects rebelling.

The lake in which I swam as a child

and sailed boats in my youth

is now a boundless sea I must cross

from this life to the next, to a spit of land

beyond which is another sea, and beyond

that more of the same — my true home.


Christopher Howell’s twelfth collection of poems, The Grief of a happy Life, was published in 2019 by the University of Washington Press. His new volume, Book of Beginnings and Ends, is forthcoming this spring from Stephen F. Austin University Press. Other work may be found in over forty anthologies, and, recently, in the pages of New Letters, Poetry International, the Gettysburg Review, The Birmingham Poetry Review, I-70 Review, and Image.  He is director and principal editor for Lynx House Press and lives in Spokane, Washington.