Volume 29, Number 1

Life at Peak

What was he thinking,
the man who felled the last tree
on Rapa Nui? I imagine him hearing 
the decisive crack that signals 
the first tottering, the groan of resignation, 
the hastening, 
stepping back, stone axe hefted 
onto muscled shoulder, watching limbs 
shear away, the trunk crash, at his feet.
What was he thinking
as this last tree finally lay flat? Did he stand there, 
admiring the stump-strewn slopes, or did he shrug, 
work done, walk away? … or the stonemasons
who left their glowering Moai unfinished, 
embedded in the basalt walls 
of the Ranu Raraku quarry … did they know
they would never finish the job? 
Did they take their tools with them
as they left? Did they stop to share a drink
on the way home?
And what about the man 
who laid the last stone on the pinnacle 
of Temple IV at Tíkal? I imagine him standing 
up there, legs akimbo, arms splayed, palms raised 
to the heavens, hair streaming behind 
on the rising wind of a gathering storm 
like the mane of some nomadic lion, turning 
full circle, scanning all horizons, 
his eyes settling, last, 
on a bloody sun setting.
Could he see, perched atop this improbable peak,
the jungle creeping in
to take it all back … could he have known
that this was the final denial, the last, 
defiant monument of a doomed empire, 
soon to be lost, even from memory? I imagine him 
retreating back down the steps, shuffling 
through the darkening village,
oddly perturbed, 
to a wife, three small children, seeing them 
through new eyes 
as the shadows of evening lengthen.

—Steven G. Hallett