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 . . . ”
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.
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.
|Copyright © 1999 – 2019 Juked|