When bones and flesh have finished their business together,
we lay them carefully, in positions they’re willing to keep,
and cover them over.
Their eyes and ours won’t meet anymore. We hope.
It’s one of the oldest rules we mostly follow.
In the deep Stone Age in Shanidar, now Iraq,
someone or all of them laid or threw on the grandfather’s chest
whatever was blooming—
St. Barnaby’s thistle, yarrow, hollyhock...
His was their only burial before the frost.
For millennia, then, the dead might go under with thistle,
quantities of red ocher, a chunk of meat.
Now we have everlasting bouquets of plastic;
now we have hundreds a day to bag and box and pickle
to re-cross the Atlantic.
Light a row of oil wells and kneel
on sand too much embroiled for tombs.
Regrettably, something of the smell
is of bodies suddenly buried in fallen stones.
But some is incense, pinches of pulverized Baghdad rising
in ceremonial smoke:
dust of combatants, onlookers, miscellaneous limbs,
contents of hovels, contents of museums,
ancient pollen of yarrow and hollyhock.
Poetry (March 2011)
In the old days when I started reading Poetry Chicago it had dowdy covers and an old-fashioned High Modern seriousness derived from Harriet Monroe who had founded it as a sort of missionary effort on behalf of Pound and Eliot and Joyce early in the century. These days the magazine is young and hip, floating on seas of unearned cash bequeathed by Miss Ruth Lilly. I do not think it is better or worse than it was before. The content is different but the mix is about the same -- some issues I hate from cover to cover and others seem rich and intriguing. Today I looked at the March issue and found that rare thing, an effective war poem (above). PLUS an unexpectedly long and impressive narrative construction called Torment by one of my own established favorites in the up-and-coming generation, Daisy Fried -- too much to quote, but this is a link to it and I hope others will also admire it.