Sistine Notebooks: Daniel

“And I alone saw the vision . . . and there remained no

strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me

to corruption . . . ”

—DANIEL 10:7-8

Nous ne somme rien de plus que ce que nous avon fait,

the silversmith states as though to himself,

revealing to us the tricks of his miniature wares.

We are all nothing . . . ” I begin my beginner’s

translation in my head, “nothing more . . . ”

looking over his shoulder at the towers of Notre Dame,

nodding, “nothing more than what we have done.”

The cathedral of course a gothic nod of its own

to somebody’s work, the hands of ten

thousand mixing mortar and splitting stone,

for centuries stacking salvation to the sky.

I yesterday saw the workers’ lovely bones,

or some of them, stacked like cordwood,

like bricks in the catacomb carved beneath

Paris’s careful streets, their dusty femurs

and skulls piled into a wall behind whose bulwark

the carpals and clavicles, humera and chipped

vertebrae of a million souls mingle, guarding the gates

to the valley between doing and being done unto.

Four gendarmes in berets and fatigues go by,

rifles strapped to their flak-vested chests,

the threat of the muzzles flung mildly aside.

They unnerve, though I know their aim

is restraint: to keep dread works undone.

At this Yule market, this year, it seems

every battle unfought becomes a war won.

There’s no fiery furnace stoked to receive me,

no den of lions famished to mangle my form

to bones for the ossuary, I’m yet struck dumb

as Daniel in the face of what may come—

my inaction no cloak against what may be done.

And what am I to do?

I focus on the figurines, those gilt raindrops

on their black velveteen board,

the schnauzers and crocodiles

with articulated spines, the nesting

bird with its teeny flapping wings,

scores of tiny beasts cast in slips of silver

smaller than dimes. Their whiskers and tails

and feathers and scales a reason to stop, to sigh,

their details a distraction from the thing

that was days ago done in what feels like a city nearby.

Like nothing else in this gray December,

the menagerie looks up to say

in their maker’s husky voice:

              I can do these things.

              This was done by my hands.

              On purpose;

              On purpose.

Intention and action offer hands to hold,

some purchase in the cold,

in the crowd too like that crowd in Berlin

reduced by a terrorist’s telic truck

to the things they’d most recently done:

the “victims” and “survivors,” “witnesses,”

“holiday revelers” line up in my mind

as if under the artisan’s glass, polished to shine

like mirrors in the winter’s feeble sun.

I look away, afraid that I’ll love them,

and fawning, catch my own eye

in their sheen and there perhaps see

what may be done to me when I die.

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