The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Idris Anderson

Staffordshire Hoard

 

When the earth was flat    and the edge of lands-end
a foul mud-fen    of reedy muck,
in the kingdom of Mercia    the king commanded
the killing of marauders,    man-slaughterers
gold-greedy    for garnets of goldsmiths,
famed fashioners    of fine-wrought fastenings,
knots and loops    on lovely surfaces
of cheek plates and chin pieces,    chain links
on sword hilts and helmets,    hand-hammered
bands and buckles,    braces and breast plates,
jewel-set treasures    untouched for ages,
gems dug from darkness,    sun-dazzled purples
fresh from furrows    of a farmer’s field.


In that battle-torn earth,    a blood and bone-house
feast for crows,    a Christian cross is discovered
by a midlands man    with a metal machine,
cross arms inscribed    with clean-cut
legible Latin:
   Rise up, O Lord!
May thy dread    enemies be driven,
scattered far    from thy fearful face.

Angles, Saxons,    armorers, soldiers
labored to keep    those kingly treasures,
hid gold unmarked    in higher ground,
memorized rocks and trees    near River Trent,
still a slow slough    of shallow waters.


Or, pagans threatened    by the new theology
thought of their fathers,    fire-lighters who fought
against darkness,    against hunger, desolation.
Repulsed by arrogance    of the Roman religion,
the zeal of followers    of that foreign faith,
a proud people    eagerly paid the war-price,
slaughtered believers,    buried their battle-gear,
valuable trophies    tainted by Latin,
language of privilege,    pretension, abstraction,
emperor’s opulence,    priest’s obfuscations.


Where is the simple man,    his fear of monsters,

his imagination wild    with web-toed water-dwellers,
scale-blue dragons    that soar and breathe fire?
Too much reality    has ruined our dreaming.
Where is the humble man    with the heart of a hero
who is kind to his kinsmen,    crafty with foes,

who commissions a scop    to sing old stories,
who puts down his spear    and speaks poetry?


With luck and a little whim,    thirteen centuries later,
man comes and digs again    in the gray-dim
waste of history,    honest dirt on his hands.
Small man of pathos,    of method and patience,
he keeps secrets,    sweeps his machine
over weedy fields,    finds in the fertile
earth-womb    wonders of war art,
death’s gold,    the hoard of God.
His heart-work is ours,    our harms his,
fools in a comedy    of finders-keepers,
Wyrd’s lottery    of longing and loneliness.
A dog’s day    when all is done.

 

 

Idris Anderson

Giacometti's Piazza

Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice

1

Five figures are
walking toward
the same point
in the piazza,
thin, sturdy, erect,
splintered black,
welded in full stride,
their feet set
on a course to collide.
One wears
an extra bit of black
torso metal,
glob of shirt or knot
of muscle
in the shoulders.
Dolls four inches high,
too tall to be pawns,
not mitered
like bishops,
they move in rigid
straight lines
across the piazza,
a square metal
plate the size
of a board for chess.


2

Set on a table
with spindly legs,
the black-bronze
seems to float,
artifact of the ordinary
world, stage of fears,
comic intersection
of intemperate lives,
each figure
a fecundity of
thought sealed up.
We know,
just looking at them,
what they are telling us
about intention
and surprise,
the steady assertion
of self without
feint or flinch.

3

When will anyone
notice they are coming
together? except
for the strider
whose path
will never cross
anyone’s. He’s headed
for the edge of
catastrophe?
oblivion?
or leads
a contemplative life.
Two or three may be
deliberately meeting,
looking forward
or with dread to the
awkwardness always
of human encounter.
What would be
sign or form
in stiff metal,
of defiance,
of giving way,
of stepping aside?
Who will adjust
his gait, slow down
or speed up,
to meet or miss
on purpose or by chance?


4

After hours
in the dark museum,
none will dance
like masked men on stilts
in Piazza San Marco,
their long stick
arms waving
to moody music,
a flutter of fabrics,
purples, reds
billowing up
boom-box gaudy
in the amplified
Italian night.
Each pulling on
each in some
relation in gravity
makes a terrible
stillness,
the tension magnetic.
People move around
like planets, study them
like geometry
of billiards.
figure the angles,
the physics of motion.


5

Tiniest smooth
sculpted places
glint as I watch
trepidation of the spheres
in the blue Venetian night.
What saves us
from ourselves
except intercourse
with another,
conversation
or a kiss?
A hand lifts
to greet or touch.
In dome-and-spire-lit
fire-yellow morning,
heels click again
on dirty pavimenti,
ugly pigeons coo.

 

 

 

IDRIS ANDERSON's second collection of poems Doubtful Harbor has won the Hollis Summers Prize and will be published by Ohio University Press in spring 2018. Her first collection of poems Mrs. Ramsay's Knee was selected by Harold Bloom for the May Swenson Poetry Award and published by Utah State University Press.  She has won a Pushcart Prize and has published poems in AGNI On-Line, Crab Orchard Review, The Hudson Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Southern Review, and other journals.

 

 

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