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El Tres de Mayo

July 15, 2017

The edge of town. A lantern lights the man

about to die. His comrades clasp their eyes.

He kneels: arms spread like sails aloft, he wills

defiance but it’s terror which obtains.

 

The friar murmurs blessings, swears and damns

the French. The waiting chorus moans and cries,

then ‘tirez!’, muskets fusillade; he spills

beside the corpses slumped among the stains.

 

Low fearful wails behind the victims’ hands,

the panicked mumbling of the priest who shrives

the doomed, the terse command, the gunshots – still

they resonate, among the faint remains

 

of ancient susurrus of surf on sand,

dead families’ and lovers’ truths and lies,

muezzin, birdsong, rain on rooftiles, peals

of laughter, angelus and lonesome trains.

 

Each wave, since noise and atmosphere began,

continuously pales but never dies:

each instant as it passes, pares and steals

a half, and then a half, and half again…

 

reducing history from the first big bang

towards a point it will not realise:

attenuated, yet its core prevails,

diminishing, but nowhere vanishing.

 

What’s past is present: faded cryptogram

of sound – no matter if we try to prise

a meaning out of or ignore it – fills

our ears with its abiding, quiet refrain:

 

the edge of town. A lantern lights the man

about to die. His comrades clasp their eyes.

He kneels: arms spread like sails aloft, he wills

defiance but it’s terror which obtains.

 

Published in the Kent & Sussex Folio, 2016

 

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