Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Not Before but After Us

The burning cities on the high debit hills
ignore the hundred wooden boats
that are rowing
away from them, the nervous oarsmen
looking over their red shoulders, rising
birds squawking along the very
limit of salted granite fences.

Bells in the towers are heated
like pears muting processional trumpets
with gun carriages weighted in war drums
that vibrate the morning air as if viewed
in storm through green pond water—
moving them along are heavier wagons
with wet hay, old jars of plum wine,
and giant spools of yellow hemp.

Women are beating the mules in conjunction
with the drums. There are
heads on pikes around the open public garden.
There’s the occasional funeral march, the elderly
mourners are painted. They are naked
and we are struggling to refuse our poem
beautiful innocents and the pleasant doldrums
of civil massacre.

Later, with night falling the city walls
are rouged ember blocks rolling down hillsides
into seasonally cooling rivers—
there are steam baths to the north
and to the west they are boiling
enemy citizens with their wives, along with
the young tax collectors from the rebel countryside.

Wind lifts into the trees. The fallen birds and apples
in the smudged orchards
smell like the hemorrhaging around the surgical tents,
then we fall farther to the cliffs again
where solemn priests are feeling
a certain emptiness:
at their feet pooling intestines
have nothing to do with any of this . . .

Though it is a scene
now clearly lost and contemptuous of loss—
all the good people have become
pilgrims, all
counting blisters like coins
local, in time, this is not before
but after us.
The priests still crying in their sleeves
now faint into yawning legends
of cold living rock, too exhausted to cry out.
You will know they have found bottom
with the wide sound of melons bursting . . .
war is such an adornment
and abuse of homicide. Could we ever live without it?

Please, hush,
listen to the busy work song of the flies.
They vomit eggs into the open eyes of the dead.
The flies are seen eating gunpowder
from the bleeding mouths
of the governor’s daughters.

They contrive a smile in the golden neck
of the general’s old toothless lion.
We are exiting, he says, to his aunt—
we’ll have even more good fun here
She is crazy also
and says we have forgotten the two
picnic baskets, by early night
they will become tenements
of red and black ants. All the insects
are writing eulogies on napkins for us. They insist
this is not before, but after.
She repeats
we are exiting the lawns and ballcourts,
more good fun for us tomorrow. Please
don’t forget the wickets. They
are solid gold, of course . . .
who can afford such luxuries anymore.
Or a cold-boned trout for breakfast.

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