Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Though you have walked…

"Dry Bones"  © 2016 David Prashker
To listen to an audio recital of the poem, click here

Though you have walked through wildernesses
 though you have crossed whole emptinesses
  though you have journeyed in the endless desert
   following the clouds of smoke and fire

though ice has eaten your fingers raw
 though death has stripped you to the core
  though hate has robbed you of your heart
   and all your heart’s desire

though you have stumbled
 yea through the valley of the shadow of shadows
  fearing and anticipating every evil -
   still you have not yet seen what I have seen:

A man
     coming from Bozrah
               with his garments torn
The scorching wind that splits the seven oceans
   each into seven times seven channels
      so that men may pass through dry-shod

Thorns sprouting in palaces
   the marmot consorting with the jackal
Temples and treasure-houses
   thrown open to the mob:
The red rock splattered

Have you, have you seen such things?
Have you witnessed, as I have witnessed:

The corpses lying like offal in the streets:
     the stench of dying
The rank putrescent odours of decay
     where once the scent of perfume lingered

The red ants who have occupied the palaces:
 The swarms of locusts
     sweeping out of Africa
The vultures waiting
   simply waiting
         in the trees?

Have you, have you seen such things?

The shining gleaming radiance of power
     leading to consent?

The omnipotence of majesty
     leading to fear?

The thumbprint of oppression
     leading to acquiescence?

The absolute corruption of supremacy
     leading to resignation?

The ineffable glory of self-importance
     leading to murder?

The terrifying
            wonderment of tyranny
   leading to destruction?

The sheer unquestioned
     and unquestioning
          unspeakable devastation
of unchallenged
     and unchallengeable authority
- inevitably
                    - to hopelessness?


   The generations before me never witnessed it, but only read it in a poem. The apocalyptic nightmare, envisioned by Ezekiel, enscribed by T.S. Eliot. This was the world before we came along: the perpetual fear of the impossible holocaust; the permanent dream of the unattainable return. It was my generation who witnessed, who experienced them both.


   And what, after all, is Hell, but loss of hope? What earth, if not a winding-sheet? What snow, if not a shroud? And freezing cold in forty-five below, one dreams of something better - even Hell itself, which would at least be warm.
   But earth is stained red on which we lie, we who are the old dishonoured ones, the broken husks of men, each of us two vast and trunkless legs of stone languishing half-sunk beneath the desert, fragments of men clinging for dear life to fragments of civilisation, while the shadow of Ozymandias looms above:

                                   Healthy to the left of him
                                   Wealthy to the right of him
                                   Into the clinic of the Angel of Death
                                   Were marched the 10,000

   But what else was there to cling to, unless nursery rhymes? What else? The silence in the mountains? The dry sterile thunder without rain? The red sullen faces sneering and snarling from the doors of mudracked houses? The murmur of maternal lamentation? The sound of water over rock? The dry grass singing? What else? What else?
   “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
   What else?
   “The song of Esther, rising from the tomb of Haman.”
   What else?
   “Not to have fallen, like others of my lineage, cut down in battle. To be, in the fruitless night, he who counts the syllables.”
   What else?

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Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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