Oh there’ll be no forty maidens, Cloud-clad angels, sainted bliss: All your Luthers and Bin Ladens Are just food for worms—or fish; So relax my anxious faithful And pursue some truer myth: “Afterlife”—the thought’s a tangle! Life always comes before death.
[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.
[A meagre offering in honour of the birth of Publius Vergilius Maro on this day in 70 BCE.]
Phoebus descends on Megara, beats down the crops with his coming, anxious so to see the poet shaping in song the trip from Troy to Rome; but the healer in his eagerness falls in weight too great even for this mortal of immortal fame, who pales beneath the gaze of needy gods.
Now from Andes to the Andes Virgil’s dancing lines, lightfoot and firebright, sound, but no more the slow voice speaks fleet Latin, spells the mouth out incantation; still, folding its bones, from Bangalore, from Beijing to Brindisi, the sea holds benthic peacefulness, and all is quietly full of the sound of surrounding water: heavy in its depth and gravity, light as light saturating sky, inseparable, like wind in air, or woven in sea like the smoky foam wringing the waving wash; still life beats on, numbers’ and nature’s forces soaking the sponge of brain, of skin, of eye, of ear, of lung, of gill; and still from distant rooftops twists the smoke—welcome or war. See them!— By campfire, farm–fire, hill–fire, men– at–arms, at ploughs, at pipes, warming to song.
Nothing is speaking to human consciousness:
not the gusts of Olympus blustering our brains;
not the gush of the Ganges bubbling our bodies;
not the snowflake stars dusting the black, or the silences between them, no—
we are just talking to ourselves—
Mother: What, Dan? Me: Nuthin, I was just talkin to meself. Mother: Well shur ya couldn’t talk to a nicer fella.
(Well, mothers are supposed to love their sons,
and I suppose most of them do.)
No—we are just talking to ourselves,
our brains rustling: crown of thoughts
a crown of leaves, branches spreading in our heads,
rooting down in the dumb limbs,
spine-trunk, root-nerve, sap-blood, leaves
greening and browning and new buds blooming,
fruits and seeds,
breezes the branches make themselves
by growing (a flung violin makes music too),
Ah the mouths we all are
Tongue-soft and tooth-hard
Spit-shined and enamelled
But red raw and rotten
Suckling and snapping
Laughing and grinding
Talking to ourselves
(Fill it and fill it— I’m teaching myself Latin!—
But there’s always a hole in the middle)
words echo with the ghosts of almost wholly-lost worlds but for them nothing remains at all—nothing words hold though only airily the fragile bones of yesterday loose as breath but holding yet and tightening