by Christopher Bernard
We walk the silent streets among monuments
dark as tombs of an ancient time
long forgotten, frozen in silly
selfies and worries
no one can even remember now;
older than memory a time
that ended a mere week ago,
a month, a day, an hour ago.
March was only an hour ago.
March was an eternity ago.
It is spring and the
flowers are blossoming everywhere.
Silence passes over the streets
(the sole sound in the neighborhoods,
the operatic bel canto of an endless mockingbird)
like the ripples from a stone that falls
into a neglected pond. They expand
slowly over the besieged city
dark and cool at the bottom of the sky:
over the clumps of office towers,
the chasmed streets, the glistening rails,
the darkened restaurants and bars,
the wordless cafes,
the tidy, disappointed sidewalks,
the hush of missing crowds,
the intersections of empty crosses,
the stillness of the churches
where the bells ring above empty naves,
storefronts closed behind their shields
of plywood painted gray,
white, black, as if to say,
“We are at war, our ships are gray,
our will is black, our hopes are white,”
until they splash the hospitals
and there break
with desperation, grief and fear,
and the stone that is held against fear,
skill, courage, will, the hard
love of a determined yet frightened intent,
arrayed against an insidious invasion
riding the air like gossamer,
defending as with ax and pike
or mangy hides of a long-dead age
and howls of execration and rage,
the pierced wall of the modern town,
what now appalls the world.
Just yesterday, before the stone
fell, life, it was so much simpler . . .
That will be the future’s myth.
Of course it will be a lie.
Life was never simpler.
Man against man, and against woman, was the rule,
commanded by genes, natural selection,
and our bizarre yet entirely human mix
of the irrational and the arrogant.
The world was, as usual, at war
with its silver-stained reflection in the glass.
Humankind was proving
a gorgeous catastrophe for life
on a planet the size of a pebble
slung from a slingshot. We were the crown
virus enthroned in the breath of the world.
And now, in a cruelly fair reverse,
the crown virus has laid siege
to human monumentality
and mortified its pride. The skies
are clear of plane and smog, the clouds
and birds alone inhabit it,
the plains have only farmers cross them,
the mountains do not burn, the woods
are quiet with the stuttering of squirrels,
the tangled skein of interstates
is silent except for insouciant semis
running drink and food to the locked down.
The night is black as ink
strewn with glittering points
we had almost forgotten.
The air, transparent for miles
as glass, stands fresh as morning.
Greenland freezes a film of water
back into ice. The corals
hold their limestone like a breath
beneath a glassy sea.
The city is filled with singing
and archipelagoes of blossoming flowers.
Birds, knowing nothing
but the leaning sun’s ecliptic
and the burnished weathering of the wind,
migrate in their clouds northward,
The flowers proclaim that beauty
will always triumph everywhere.
“We must love one another or die,” said the poet.
Then changed his mind to the obvious fact:
“We must love one another and die.”
But this thought undermined his poem.
And so he scrubbed the line, almost
tossed away the poem.
we live makes the change beyond
where we bow out of the light;
our choices made, our acts, our words –
these make our meaning and our truth,
our good, our evil:
the stones dropped in a pool,
ripples shivering outward
in growing circles of effect
the moment into eternity,
beyond our little lives more or less forever.
Must we die for the world to live?
This is the question with the forced reply.
If we say to that word “no,”
we are not free from
what we know.
Christopher Bernard is co-editor and poetry editor of the webzine Caveat Lector. His new novel, Meditations on Love and Catastrophe at The Liars’ Café, appeared in January 2020. His third collection of poetry, The Socialist’ Garden of Verses, is slated to appear later this year.