“Olympian”: A poem by Christopher Bernard


By Christopher Bernard

An old man kneels
in front of a stone.

Once I was famous,
forgotten now,
handsome once,
ugly now,
alpha once,
feeble now,
wealthy once,
a poor man now—

but you loved me
from sun to sun,
and they were kind
whatever the moon,
and food and wine
are rich on my tongue,
and every summer
lilacs bloom.

I have lost
all I won.
I have no trophy
brighter than the sun,
no applause
louder than birdsong.

Still, soothing
it is to know
that winning what most
will never know,
drunk on the shouts
of the applauding crowds,
metaled, victorious,
exalted, alone,
is beautiful, is fine, is very fine,
yet small,
a crumb of sweetness
that falls from the table
like a crushed star,
almost nothing at all.

The day I was born,
the day I die,
I lose the same world
that I won.
And you I won—
it was very sweet.
Then you I lost.
And where went the triumph
in that defeat?

Winning was nothing,
nothing at all.
The only gift
that mattered here
was the gift we all
were given here.
That is our hell,
that is our heaven.
We make of it
what we can, or cannot.
From wind to wind,
you came, you went.
From same to same,
I went, and came.

The old man
bends to the stone
and kisses the carved letters of the name.

Christopher Bernard is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins and co-editor of the
webzine Caveat Lector. His poetry blog is called “The Bog of St. Philinte.”

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