Poetry from Christopher Bernard

 The Hammer and the Dance 
 The hammer and the dance
 in this atlas of the world,
 in the season of pandemic,
 like two stanchions on a court;
 between, a tightening line
 like the imaginary line
 on the cartographer’s expedient chart,
 on one side, the dutiful girls,
 on the other, boys in masks;
 around them hung a wall of distance
 that surrounds them like a fort;
 at their feet, forgotten tasks.
 And the hammer beats the time
 for the young ones as they dance.
 What of the future? What of the past?
 What of the present? You may well ask.
 There was something to be done
 now forever left undone.
 Where there once appeared a mask,
 now a flawed map hides its face
 in a hand scarred by this place;
 now there is a face of ash.
 And the hammer beats the time
 for the young ones as they dance.
 Deep inside the twisting globe
 opens up a burning robe.
 And tonight the silence hurls
 into darkness its moot sign
 like a banner never furled,
 like the alchemist’s alembic
 charred with his defeated gold,
 like the future’s gathering dark
 and the iron in the heart.
 And the hammer beats the time
 for the young ones as they dance.
 When you see it, you will know.
 The shaky camera, the kneeling
 men in midnight blue:
 they look at first as though
 they are praying, pious
 as three altar boys,
 caught in an innocuous crime, perhaps
 stealing holy wafers or consecrated wine.
 But they are not.
 The shaking camera stops,
 and you hold in your breath,
 like clutching at a hand,
 not quite believing that you see
 what it is you think you see.
 Underneath their knees,
 in the brutal sun,
 a dark form. And a voice from the feed:
 "I can't breathe, I can't
 breathe! I can't breathe! I
 can't breathe!" For four minutes and
 forty-six seconds,
 as the altar boys pray
 in the shouting glare.
 Then it stops. The video
 stops. The voice stops. The praying 
 stops. The breathing 
 stops  And you breathe, 
 too late. But you seethe, you seethe.
Christopher Bernard is co-editor and poetry editor of the webzine Caveat Lector. His new collection of poems, The Socialist’s Garden of Verses, will appear in the fall of 2020.

1 thought on “Poetry from Christopher Bernard

  1. This is what death, in reality, becomes when someone slowly passes on. Your words at the end of this poem speak the reality of the death of Mr. Floyd. No one should have to slowly watch their life pass in the time it took for him to stop breathing his last breath.

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