(A reply to W. S. Merwin’s “The Asians Dying”)
They step out of the Atlantic front
hacking forests into long halls, setting
armories on one end, pentacles on their chests,
they roar in the fire-light forward at each other—
an abundance of beer jostling from tall mugs. The gold
of angels’ wings adorns the halls.
Daylight stirs them under shifting clouds,
and St. Peter’s silence soars until numbness,
the crucifix of arches leans to them; their wrists twitch,
their sides seem to bleed.
In the catacombs they remember, touch a skull
“shattered by a spiked club.”
They want to believe, to never lose the shape of this blessing,
to never move, and sense from each other
an undulation—without hesitation—
they try to take Asia—the missionaries
loaded with magic, fresh architecture,
myths of towers to heaven, of endless steps
to nowhere—the rage of languages and famine.
“The pain will vanish like this, this bread, this wine;
follow!” say the missionaries.
Others listen, answer softly, in the cadence of the living,
“nothing they will come to is real.”
The Anglos advance into the shadows
they cannot see; shoulder to shoulder into the clatter they cannot touch
and raise the barrel’s flash,
pierce the rain with a pointless sound,
poison farmlands and return from settling mists,
behind horizons muddying an ocean with sunsets.
Packing trinkets of brass, they come back to this.
First appeared in the University of Washington Daily.