The sky now has a tinge of nicotine,
a dirty yellow on the pigeon grey,
and even the profusion of the green
bursting from every shard of blackened stone
has faded into vague and smoky growth.
Above this rubble-mound, the wrecks of walls
jut hard on either side against the sky;
as hulking as the baths of ancient Rome,
yet seemingly suspended in the wind,
somehow they have survived the shattering fires.
Where once a church soared upward, dome on dome,
an empty space hangs in the autumn air
above the broken frame. Now you can see
a lesser dome behind Our Lady’s trash.
What force could burn so hard through flesh and stone?
Czechowski as a boy climbed on his roof
and saw behind the black shapes of the towers
a white glow swelling like a giant bell,
turning above to red, then solid black.
The poplars in the square bent in the gale.
And in the foreground normal life goes on
somehow: a group of students dawdle and chat,
as if a fence of corrugated iron
painted with gaudy and persistent swirls
could shield them from the silent monument.
And right in front you see the parked Trabants,
ambition of a yellowed time and land,
but nothing here, no chatter and no pride,
no gleaming reconstruction can conceal
the night when people burnt up on the streets.
where the balance of the world shifted
monkeys scavenge in the bins
where General Baird attacked the fortress
tourists photograph old weapons
where the Redcoats stormed the ramparts
women scrape weeds from the garden
where the fighter Tipu Sultan fell
toilet attendants bicker over payment
Shorn sheep swim
in tawny grass.
Scorched trees flame green.
A hard road
through the rocks
to Port Arthur.
and roof open
a broken mill
the Isle of the Dead.
young beans are dancing
about their poles
in morning light.
In the shadow
one leaf at a time.
wound with bindweed.
Under an arch
sleeps that old serpent,
the garden hose.