“El Dorado” by Peter Campion.

“El Dorado”

“El Dorado”

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 9 2012 8:15 AM

“El Dorado”

Muisca raft, representation of the initiation of the new Zipa in the lake of Guatavita, possible source of the legend of El Dorado.

Museo del Oro/Wikimedia Commons.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Peter Campion read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.  

After the accident when we were
safe on the shoulder and she leaned against me
gripping our son as the cruiser
strobed blue and red

there came the helplessness     the bare
nerve shudder giving up to air


so in those moments
“I” was this person with my name and also no one

so remembering
     crumpled steel and
sun on the silos for miles beyond us

I can make no connection



Only the ancient story    how a man
clambered from caves where days he dwelt alone
and tribesmen came anointing him
with balsam gum then
sputtering gold dust
through wooden tubes all over him

He walked the talus to the lake where a raft awaited  
braziers lavishing shine on the heaped gold

At the center of the lake he scattered
handfuls of gold to the water
and returning to the shore
he doused himself
so colors elusive as the coins and squiggles
on the dorsal of a trout

fell to the cratered basin    treasure
the invaders found
vanishing always to wild interior


fell as the tribesmen
bellowed through jaguar masks


No one along the breakdown lane in northern Iowa
dressed as a jaguar    no one dripped with gold

But that shiver of surrender
flooding my chest
                               that tremble of unclenching muscle


stranded in the miles of soy bean fields
between one home we left and one we’d never seen

I tell you    my wife and son
their warmth against me
                                         the houses
small from the road as a spatter of paint chips

even the billboard above us   chewed up
furniture bobbing in the blue
                                                 even my own skin

shone with the promise
there was nothing more than this
train of moments

streaming through air
                                      everything gathering
light to its contours
before it disappears

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Peter Campion is the author of two collections of poems, Other People (2005) and The Lions (2009) both from the University of Chicago Press. He teaches in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Minnesota.