Keep two files: ‘forest (heretofore)’ and ‘forest (hereafter).’
Report well. Begin with objects and events.
The Prefect and his cottonmouth attendants
desire more granularity of data.
No landslides. Gradual fissures. Motes in the moraine.
Icebergs calving only in high summer?
Grief: sufficient, or surfeit? Caked ash: what accretions?
Poems still milking well in this dry weather?
The Floor has opened and closed. The teller recounts.
A world in each calqued little stone of my abacus.
The ayes or noes in my ears. The Speaker’s mouth.
Remember Cicero’s little brother Quintus?
The arms are stowed below sobs out the scar-cheeked NCO.
‘Rome needs boots on the ground at home’ said Stilicho, and so
I’ve pulled the limitanei from tollgate and from wall.
Now, named the drawdown delegate by Rome’s absolute shall,
I shall remain to douse the flames at Fort Anderida
and patiently explain, again, the world it guards is over –
this cold age of synecdoche demands all hands on deck
and I must pry the fingers from those clinging to the wreck.
The soldier was a Lictor under Magnus Maximus.
He dumps his fasces on my desk in thunderstruck disgust.
History might be written
with lightning; it’s read in sintered
crystal, vitrified dust,
the trapped thing mummifying
in the crawlspace underneath
the summer dining room’s fancy
(Jupiter in eagle-mode,
Ganymede in the talons).
Earthworms doing much injury
by raising tesserae.
Claudian has succeeded
Ausonius as poet
laureate. I have considered
selling off my estate,
my collected disasters,
counting the days between smoke’s
skeuomorphic forks reaching back
into the horizon
and the fists on my front door.
They’re wrong. My home will not turn
into that land you think you know
from Claudian’s verses:
Air crisply pale, white barbotine on glazed
Smashed edges of cloud-laden weald.
My breath held, then my breath exhaled.
Hands cupped about my mouth for warmth. The raw,
weak pink of sunrise. Chilblains raised
afresh each night. And yet, how bare
the deer-tracks beckon back to glades
uncut by sickles. The odd globe
of mistletoe in trees. Folds grazed
by deep shadow
on middle-distance hills. So near.
I love, however mere, this pause
before the onrush of the gorse
with thorny blossom breaks the hush of ice.
Some latter age’s frost has crazed
my windowpanes. The vista here
looks out on beauty tears might blur.
I stand amazed
that now, as always, I, at home
in dry-eyed awe,
may see each branch and leaf this time
perfected by a crystal rime
and fear no blighting cold so much as thaw.
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(143 words, estimated 34 secs reading time)
Round shore-forts now unfit to fend off Saxons
the ancient woods advance contravallations.
The dead queue up here, as real as the living.
I can treat with either at leisure, fearing
neither blame nor approval. The applicants
detained to fast track their claims are clean, pliant,
focused, souls insensate, minds happily busy.
I can retreat to fantasies or sally
out towards them, yes, use facilities
to grant asylum, kick them into the long grass,
make flat refusals, shuffle papers, doss,
imagine heaven’s reception desks, a siege
peopled with bottom grade white collar staff
whose shirts are isabelline yellow, cuffs
But grandiose and crude, the liturgy
is much at work in queues: humans at once
useless, neighbourly, the collimated
light sticky with burnt sugar, powdered bone,
downdrafted ozone forecasting the storms,
the comfort of each atomising wave.
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(138 words, estimated 33 secs reading time)