Poetry

April 26, 2019 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

Elias Castillo photo

 

By

Wim Coleman

 

 

 

American Recessional

 

 

For frantic boast and foolish word—

Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

—Rudyard Kipling

 

 

The City on the Hill is turning out its lights

and closing up for a long, long night.

Heroes are cast out of their Valhalla;

the halls ring with a clamor of cowards.

 

Closed up for a long, long night

of drunken revels in the dark,

the halls ring with a clamor of cowards

gloating in the exile of heroes.

 

Their drunken revels befit the dark;

it was false morning in America too long.

Those who gloat in the exile of heroes

believed in a painted dawn, a sun that never rose.

 

The heroes, after mourning America too long,

retreat across the frozen bridge

yearning for a warming dawn, a sun to rise,

their bleeding feet wrapped up in rags.

 

Retreating across the frozen bridge,

the general reads a pamphlet to troops

whose feet are numb in icy rags:

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

 

The general shivers as he reads to his troops

about summer soldiers and sunshine patriots:

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

A woman with a face of iron and coal

 

leads freezing slaves and snowblind refugees

across the bridge toward freedom and new life.

Her posted face of iron and coal

offers tens of thousands in reward for her.

 

“Cross the bridge to freedom or you die,”

she says, threatening a lead ball from her flintlock.

“Don’t make me lag, there’s a reward for me.

Keep up, keep walking, or I’ll put an end to you.”

 

The choice is freedom or a lead ball from her flintlock.

Does safety lie behind them in the darkened hall?

They keep walking toward some doubtful end.

Only cowards mistake puniness for greatness;

 

safety is a lie told in their darkened hall

where thieves thieve all innocence away

and cowards take their puniness for greatness

and lies are held for truest scripture.

 

How can thieves thieve when no one left is innocent,

when everything is stolen, nothing earned,

and nothing is true and lies are scripture?

Surely thieves must then turn into cannibals.

 

When everything is stolen, nothing earned,

sacrifice is the sole obscenity.

When all thieves turn into cannibals,

they have no one to devour but one another.

 

“Sacrifice is the sole necessity;

the want of one is the want of all,”

say those who cling fast and dear to one another;

beyond the bridge’s end lies only darkness.

 

The suffering one, the suffering all,

cast one last glance back at their Valhalla,

then plunge into the darkness beyond the bridge;

they’ll light another City on another Hill.

 

 

 

 

 

Weaponized Love

 

 

We’re told it’s only been unleashed one time

by a lone fanatical guerrilla sent

by some silent foreign power. People talk

about him all the time, but most don’t dare

think too much about his self-immolation—

how he cold-bloodedly provoked the fury

of priests and prefect to detonate

the deadly charge of love strapped to his heart,

damn near putting an end to everything.

 

Even now we don’t know the whole scary truth

of what happened after that conflagration,

those three dark days verging on apocalypse,

how close we came again to shapelessness and void

and darkness upon the face of the deep—

and without doubt it’s just as well. The wise

illuminati who rule from shadows might

someday make public those seven files sealed up

some two thousand years ago, but only

when we’re ready for the truth—and frankly,

I wouldn’t hold my breath for that fine day.

 

The vestiges of ruin lie all around us.

We’re damaged, too, in our guts and in our souls.

Nobody could foresee back when it happened

the terrible genetic consequences

such an indiscriminate weapon would wreak

on generations yet unborn—the seizures,

the boils, the lesions, the burning eruptions

of morality and justice, pandemic

outbreaks of conscience and goodwill,

and worst of all, the mutant and grotesque

progeny too crippled and misshapen by

compassion for the cruel works of a sound

and robust functioning society.

But by the skin of our teeth, as they say,

humanity pulled through, and here we are

today, a heartier species than ever.

 

There’s no denying, though, we have been lucky.

The role of diplomacy has, I think,

been overstated. Scant progress has been made

by sovereign global powers to dismantle

their silos and armories, their insanely

massive stockpiles of lethal lovingkindness.

(So weird, all this frenzied hoarding of something

too terrible to contemplate its use!)

Worse, attempts to halt the proliferation

of agape have been a laughingstock—

the same with eros, philia, and storge.

Would-be Jesuses find such materials

in their kitchens, and instructions and designs

are available on the Darkest Web.

 

As the experts say, it’s not a matter of if,

but of when, and we are long overdue.

This time if one lone zealot sets off the spark,

the critical mass of deadly altruism

will be more than sufficient to destroy

civilization several times over,

leaving nothing but the naked infrastructure

of human bodies, guileless and zombified,

baffled by purposes and meanings you

and I take for granted—the pedagogic

utility of sweatshops; the culinary

smorgasbords of mass assembly lines;

the pious, sweet indentured duties of

the supermarket aisle; office cubicles

where we roam at liberty in our endangered

tameness as if in our natural habitat …

 

What use are these, our mindless heirs will ask,

their limbs and gazes alike entangled in throes

of folly, now that we have fallen in love?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wim Coleman

Wim Coleman is a playwright, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer. His play The Shackles of Liberty was the winner of the 2016 Southern Playwrights Competition. His poetry has been published in SOL: English Writing in Mexico, The Opiate, and Dissenting Voice. Novels that he has co-authored with his wife, Pat Perrin, include Anna’s World, the Silver Medalist in the 2008 Moonbeam Awards, and The Jamais Vu Papers, a 2011 finalist for the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Medal. Wim and Pat lived for fourteen years in Mexico, where they adopted their daughter, Monserrat, and created and administered a scholarship program for at-risk students. Wim and Pat now live in Carrboro, North Carolina. They are active members of PEN International. Blog: https://playsonideas.wordpress.com/.

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