The Burghers of Calais

The-Burghers-of-Calais

Some with eyes of bold acceptance
Of impending horrors
That cancel others.
And this one turning back,

With open pleading mouth
To the city that
Already goes about its daily business,
And hears the hawkers in the streets,
And sees the watchmen at the wall.

And this one with grim determined cheeks,
Gazing straight ahead
At the arrayed captors,
While the condemned hour
Dances on his lips

And he almost smiles.
And at last, the key holder,
In the centre,
around whom the others
Revolve like abandoned stars,

His head bowed with the weight
Of the sacredness of his death,
While it is not despair, but
Release
That floats across his gaunt face.

That the city may be saved,
These five must go away.
And so, like one without a homeland,
Whose body is no longer chained

To anything,
His feet move toward the open field
As though they were
Of another’s volition,

And how light,
How pleasant the wet grass
As he gazes into immense distances,

Eyes filled with reverence,
Far beyond the bristling soldiers
And the walls of the surrendered city.

Night Poem XIX

Night of desolation,
you reduce me to this,
husk of a crippled light.
I was a man,
and man is a beast of the day,
filled out like a coat without substance.

I was a man,
and man is a word, no more than a whimper,
in your dark amphitheater.
Why do you strip me of everything,
save these two ancient aches, death and love?

Alone by your silent lake,
pure amplifier of my id,
I fear only death, its totemic heartbeat,
its beckoning festivals.

Alone in your infinite vault,
I remember only lost loves,
the luxuriant spider of a vengeful heart,
the torrid, teasing skin of sudden memory.

Night, you destroyer of my sunlit facades,
I am remade with every dark hour,
the perfected image of your
adamantine agonies.

Night Poem XII

I breathe this same night as you,
this night humid with eyes,
this night of crushed hearts.

Though continents separate us,
the way it enters first you,
now me,
it is like a tide turning,
bringing a salt of remembered song,
this same night.

What part of you do I receive?
Your fear of love,
your day broken by horizons,
your ecstasy for another’s waist?
I receive all of this,
and I too am broken by a jealous moon.

With a rag-eared note in a bottle,
I send my reply.
I am lonely, and my body wishes this
night we share were not so immense,
so burdened with impossibility.

But a vastness of black flowers
drowns my mouth.
This night we both breathe,
alone with an enormous love,
I cannot traverse this hemisphere of ruins.

Night Poem VII

The night is clarity.
The clinical night arrives with a bag of instruments,
a jar of dissected silences,
and examines me on a table cold with remorse.

Out comes fear, out comes sorrow,
the wounded tongue,
the toe black with regret.
The surgeon night holds up my entrails

to the mirror of a razor fine moon,
and I see all the defeats of my mouth,
the dark failings of my sun.

But I don’t look away.
There is healing in this,
the quartering of the agonies I keep,
these open fissures where love struggles,

where the hours hew new scars
that will form my life.

The Tiger

I was magnificent,
the perfected mane
of a dark and menacing wind,
a fierce love that
stalked in the tall blades.
Nothing was more perfect
than my hunt,
the prey that fell to me,
like devoured kingdoms.
And though I killed,
I bore no grudges,
because in me
the recurring seasons of blood,
returned,
in me all striving remembered itself,
and life attained its
burning form.

When the Tigers are Gone

No one mourned the passing of the tiger
in the expanding towns
that lay heavy like a carcass
on his old hunting grounds.
And now there are no more man-eaters
and no more gods,
and hollowed of their ancient fears,
the townsmen are slow and sad.
The festivals of hysteria are all gone,
the nights when women told stories
to terrified children are all gone.
When the last one fell
in the dust of a dying world,
the stripes burned to the souls
of all the people,
fled to the lost grasslands,
unseen forever.

What Eats You my Dear?

What eats you my dear?
This thing within you
which grows
more mysterious, solemn, angry,
it’s reduced you to a child.
And you remember a child’s
fear of death.
But in this afternoon light,
you look calmer.
We feel, in the stillness of
these hours, mired
in the trough of the day,
we could live forever.
Yet outside the
world bakes and crackles.
Something under the earth
grows too hot,
grows agitated,
wants to roll the earth
and toss us all from
his clammy back.
It eats you my dear
and this salty skin,
this pungent flesh
that intoxicated me,
now frightens me.
And stroking you,
I feel your insides,
fearful lumps under your skin,
like protruding epiphanies.
My dear, I feel you
splayed, cold, sanitized,
like an anatomy room specimen.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2013