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Three poems

Steven Kaminski

Found Wanting

I protect my name for language is my measure.
Czeslaw Milosz

Only then will you know the Day is at hand-
The horsemen will gasp under trees,
Bleeding sweating hides refuse the old spur’s prod,
And the people left to their own devices
Have every right to disbelieve they will ever arrive.
Once they kicked up clouds upon the scrub spines of hills,
And the valley gnawed its fist of fear,
Thinking an apparition fingered a father’s watch
And planned death by the all too familiar
Sweep of a hand, the inevitable made intelligible
Yet mocking,
For absolute power is more
Than undeniable conquest:
It is to make dumb triumph praised
In the language of the vanquished.

It wouldn’t do now:
Four riders conceived in man’s first foreign night
Who would fall among the complacent center
Would be curiosities in the modern world,
And no divinity worthy of the name
Would wreck vengeance with weaponry
The wonder of a bygone age that would bore
Sounding children led into a museum on a school holiday.

The signs in the heavens will swell again,
But men will explain very precisely
Why they cannot explain them.
Men will retell how the superstitious,
The fearful, and the stupid
Fell over themselves praising
God’s mysteries,
And what were once seen as heresies are now
Quaint mistakes, like a favorite aunt’s eccentricities,
Or Cardinals who worked the earth over
To fix men in the belief the sun moved as always.

The moderns think they have truths that surpass
The worst imaginings of the ancients.
Hellfire - should we dispatch a delegate to inform the Almighty of Nuclear War?
Abyss - do we not fear how laughably alone our demise will be in the cosmos?

Pestilence - we have pinned down DNA molecules under microscopes while Life scuttles
away in the cries of newfound discovery.

Today the born warrior perishes by a pulse in a distant microchip
The writer, hero of his own life story, will be executed
By his friends in a farrago of gilt memoirs,
Indexed footnoted and forgotten
The defence lawyer will meet the familiar jury
Now grown unmovable in the face of eloquence tinned argot and props
Everyone his own reasons, everyone justifies or laments
No one believes the indictment
The few root for the truth
But the main will cheer the verdict.

Yet we have nothing to compare to
God’s spittle mixed with earth
Along which a serpent had dragged itself.
Those were the days when even a simple man
Could see service in His Lord’s command:
And he gratefully weighed down the foreign horses with provisions
As if he himself rode in their place.

After M. D.

Hiding in the reeds
Our breath daring to mix with the mist,
We hear a plaintive fiddle,
A foreign folk song stirs itself to notes
Only a viola knows.

Comfort never seems to last:
A string breaks, then a curse,
The village can burn, and the cattle slaughtered,
And the tune broken off in mid-bar

But all will soon be put right.
A little milk poured on the ground
Brings a skittery hunger-tugged cat
Padding through trampled flowers in a kicked-up bed,
And then the viola strung with her guts.

Frontier Land

You will always dwell on the borders,
Though you emulate our customs,
Pay obeisance to the same gods,
Learn the tongue of the capital.
Your garrisons will always think of home.

And the Emperor, when threatened with sack,
Will blame your breached walls,
Your gates pried open.
Nor will he be grateful for the years
You in fact turned the barbarians back.

There are cursed countries, their poets unknown,
Their gifts dissipated like ashes in strange lands-
But history will be written in the capital city,
And all known honors discovered even in the least of its sons,
For what Senate does not find Truth tied to a victor’s company?
The refugees from frontier land will learn
About virtue from these books:
They will mouth and nod as they’re taught
And earn condescending praise.
Language, once overcome, will accompany
And flood every raised spilling cup,
Until one day they read about the front
And what savages they are.

Back to the April 2006 Issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 4/21/06