The Wall in Iraq

A scene, called “Peace”, from the so-called “Standard of Ur”.

[My first blog post, back in 2009, was a far different version of the poem below. I removed it from the site when I started blogging again in 2013, and had no plans to revisit it. But for some reason, more than six years after I first wrote it, I have started writing it again—and have made it much shorter if not much else.
          So, gentle poem, welcome back to the internet. (And great Achilles will be sent once more to Troy!)]

The deepest past’s mere meters down,
a lot of dust no doubt to those
who made it, but even ground
this trodden—boots, bare soles—
is air to a bomb.
A wall that rose,
and was buried in time,

rises again, its surface glass-
like rock, blue as movie-star-eyes.
The weathered ones whose hands glossed
the standing stone, like skies
over Ur long watched
for sterile signs
of things to pass, have passed.

Colours, populous in nature,
do not penetrate the iris,
but glass can well invade her
eyes, two dirt-red pebbles
smoothed by salt water.
Something happens
with life, some stray contour

around the side of natural
beauty shakes its skin and crumbles
into want. A thimbleful
of chancing chemicals
falls in a careful
mess, carelessness
diluting the dead-still,

slow-dying purity of rock.
The girl picks lapis lazuli
from her eyes. Fired up and dropped,
the shrapnel of history
shattered her sight. Stop.
Do not worry.
Even walls cannot last.

Four Poems (Rhymes in April)

Captive Flux
Who named the days? Tell me who!
What god or beast?
Valhallan? Olympian? Jupiter’s priest?
What lion in what zoo?!

And why label the gloriousness
Of our sun-bound spins?
Our relation to the fire begins
And ends anew each day, nameless.

Haydn
Your music is inside me, Joseph—
The wind in Cretaceous fronds soothing my mammalian mothers,
The pressure forming strings of iron in the earth
Around my burrowing fathers,
The skin under my flesh,
Wind in my chest—
Your notes echo
In marrow,
Bones bored like flutes, mere oaten reeds
To sound your serenades.

To April
Chaucer, Eliot, Millay:
Poets have many things to say
To April. What would I say to it?
Nothing—it is a construct.
Yes, the moon turns,
The earth too (to dust),
The sun burns
Out days, but I distrust
All timeframes, the rigid
Collars of clock time
Dripping days digit by digit,
And the natural, cycling kind
Appearing to repeat, like April,
Like Friday, all coming alive,
But actually being new and making older, a mill
Grinding all things into grime,
Grimmer and gaunter grains
Of being—chains.
And after all
I guess that’s what I have to say to April.

Concerning CERN
Smash it, mash it, bake it in a pie—
White coats, clipboards, standing by;
Crash it, bash it, stand it on its head—
Smaller things are easier said;
Whack it, smack it, give it a thump—
Measure each mote of the insect’s jump.

Rose

I thought one of the pictures which inspired this poem might contribute something to its enjoyment. Can you see which girl is the Rose?
I thought one of the pictures which inspired this poem might contribute something to its enjoyment. Can you tell which girl is the Rose?

Fading into the photograph some of your classmates,
No less important, no less alive, but not you—you stand out,
A sullen rose, having a bad day in 1936, or that’s just how
You look. No less hopeful for it, a whole kaleidoscope of life
Spirals out from the black-and-white school picture,
The market streets alive with sensory richness, Galway alleyways
Leading each to different lives. Perhaps you became a nun,
The school selling it well, perhaps a nurse, living by the hospital,
Perhaps a corpse hours after this was taken, the sullenness sickness.

What became of you? And why is the became more than you are
This 1930s day? Just a rose, unpruned, a flame on film, ready to bloom
Like a camera’s flash or to fade like your friends
Into the drear background. Why? Because I cannot know,
Because the narrative act of lining you all up
And saving this second forever sets suspense—what happened next?
And next, and next, and after that, and then? What happened?

What is happening, forever now, frame-sized, is you standing,
And standing out—your cardigan maybe blue, your eyes as well,
Hair light and easy on your well-held head—and looking out,
Out at lives coming, possibilities, the schooling done, the ticket
To America, to India, to some escape from your life back then,
From discipline and rules and drudgery, from poverty and fools
And from, oh from, the stings and thorns that are coming,
As surely for you as for your fellows, the failures, the regrets,
That what ifs and the if onlys, the sullenness of a girl
Deepening into the well-worn despair of womanhood,
The children and the husband and the house, the parents
Sickening and needing care, the bills, the aches, the worries,
All the things that go along with any joys, joys of parenthood
And love, if such you knew, joys of shelter and of family,
All the joys that sit around a grief, expectant diners
Waiting for a feast, the servants lined around the board,
The silver shining and the linen laid, the wine all ready,
Just to be uncorked, the dishes coming in, set down with care,
The lids lifted, and the horror underneath. Ah, had they but been empty,
Then what care? But the rotted flesh, the shattered bone,
The food of monsters set out like a kill—
And all your ravenous fellows tucking in.

What pains you saw, what joys, what black-and-whites,
Will not be known. Only this lonesome rose will grow and die,
And only she will ever know the world she found,
And what she made of it, and what she left.

Chains

After all this time I dreamed of you tonight.
We walked and talked through alleys of my mind.
And now that I’m awake again I find
The love I had still burning just as bright.
Oh, if only this old world were kind
And love and one stray dream could set things right.

We were together again at long last—
Intoxicating wine after a fast—
Walking the streets of Galway and Belfast…
Ah, my first love, if only dreams could last.
Alas, more years are gone than are to come,
Our once bright future lies in mist behind.
And oh, the things I would have done
If I had not been blind.

How many years, how many miles between us?
And yet you are as close as a dream, so close
You are inside me, my Alcestis, my Hermione—
Except you won’t come back.
I can only dream you into my life.
You live, but time and distance make
You as good as dead to me.
You haunt me, living ghost,
Rattling your chains across my soul.