by Iain James Robb
(Let me know if anyone wants me to delete this, in light of events in Paris. I originally shelved this because it was followed a few weeks after I'd sent it to an editor by 9/11. That acrostic running through the 2nd and 3rd stanzas was not really deliberate. This poem is fucking cursed.)
There were moments of madness, the funeral call of an owl in the alders:
Teams of soon-to-be-dead things huddled up and rushed upon
Impalements, mouths in predatory rain: the vicious instruments
Which other creatures like to spill the blood with sparkle: wail
Of orphans the motherless ones, the parents who grieve for spilled children.
The torture continues as young jacks and fallows plead through the time of tears.
The quietus, stark, of senses and stares unhinged and fixed on the rustle
Of other encroachers on leaves, seems to curdle in fear and expectance;
For all of the sermons the elders make by their silence there is just
The quiver of expectant loins, poised to respond to strange motion,
Fleeing at approach: the rill on the lips of the cavernous delta
Where flesh bathes in its own red ink, adrenaline baste in sprayed air.
The tongue and the muzzle, the hunger unspayed, wears a warning
And an idiot hind wills to kill itself: it rambles from the brake,
A shutting of jaws on its quarters to follow, no word of advice on its falling;
The bleeding and death of the tree-sheeted causes weeping in the space
Where a voice strains to break, reverberates, a whisper on the wind.
Against the break in a wall overgrown with weeds there is the face
Of a predator wrapped in a rapturous violence, of deadening grace.
The stench of limp victims, of cordite and asphalt the impact showers,
A flurry of dust that follows the break of the buttress of an office block,
Stings in the bomb-soddened air: the pain of not knowing how, beforehand,
The smell hurts the nerves, hits without preparation, and chokes.
Endemic to the rape of the concrete on metal, there grow wilted stems
Of weird mushrooms, meat puppets wrenched nape to the stamen.
Flesh marionettes, drained dolls with ripped strings spill cords of red on the asphalt,
Strange root-forms of vegetable men with torn tendons that bleed in the derelict day:
Or car-crash angels, painting the pavement with arms apart at the elbows,
Mandrakes baptised in the gasoline ashes with no sense to scream or to weep.
Enter the main square and wail at the gate, in ermines of smoke and powder,
Taking the hand of the ghost at your near side who bears the same flesh as your own.
He has held in your hand the faint trinket of blood that will wipe like severed senses:
It reminds us of your sons' cheeks when they rested on separate beds than stone.
None of Hell's hovels have ever emitted some dirge for our absent mourners;
Go to the hole in the road with spare pebbles and make rosaries to your dead.
Talismans are taken to the place where lives are lost in lands of ramparts;
Ever and forever, in the citadel mock garlands chain the fractured statues
Rowing stone-caged with split limbs upon the altar: baleful thrones
Reap clumps of hoar-coloured grass that wraps the hair of scarecrows,
In islands of ordure where horses let drop the weight of their wounded riders.
Below them, kept up by five arrows, the mud breeds new bracelets of poppies,
Low down in a land where the rivers run crimson with semen of red gods.
Even here, where our dreams are defiled by the gabble of verminous pigeons:
And here where they skirt their own danger with flights round a private tower,
New delusions of grace, more paints on Nature, cover its flaws with a fallow gauze.
Destroyers of deeds that make plain your own palsy, I honour your destruction:
Nothing subsists where you sit with your worldly wills and cast eyes on the soil.
Even here, where you come back ashen-winged to wreck the peace of dreamers,
Where your beads of dead souls alight on my pane, I'll poison you, and laugh.