P o l a n d
There was, as you would expect of that city,
Music wailing over the world
And the dancers, ah yes, the dancers were beautiful.
This could be nineteen thirty-nine
Or any year since in which the world was at war
With itself and which the dancers were taking
No notice of as they waltzed to violins
And oboes. There is one woman dressed in a red dress
Who catches my attention more than the other do;
She could well be from the century before the one
I contemplate and she would be at home in a painting
By Rossetti or a waif out of a poster by Paul Klee.
You get the picture? A hint of otherness and distance
And nothing impinging upon the red dress she wears
So delicately as if she were about to remove it for the lover
Who is not yet in the frame. No, I am not that lover
Nor do I want to be. She intrigues me with her movements
And by the fact that tomorrow Poland will fall and the waltz
Will cease in a brutal silence. Fast forward now to Iraq or Darfur
Where no one dances –nor should they- yet again some woman
Is wearing the self same dress and waiting for her lover to come.
I lied, I am that lover, or at least would be as she stands
As counter-point to the brutal silence about to fall. I have always
Been in love with such women. Nineteen thirty-nine or now
And it is the same and the war is about to begin, or continue,
And I am looking for a partner to dance with. Will you be that one?
Will you be the one to come from the shadows and hold my hand
As we step across the bones and skulls to dance as if
All this had not happened? Answer me now, take my hand.
The ballroom is empty but the orchestra is playing
That weird music we must dance to. Tell no one that you
Have read this invitation, let alone that you will respond.
Come to me out of the shadows and dance, dance, dance
As if it were a language –which it is. Here are the words
The verbs and the nouns. Tell me what you see in the years
Ahead in which Poland must fall in every generation.
And still I see her dancing through the dust that swirls
About the broken timbers of the house that once was home
But is now no more, no more.
Yes, she is beautiful and as ever faithful to that and prone
To abandon all things for its sake, I abandon all things, or would,
For the sake of this dance with her.
Come to me, Come to me, I cry out in these notes,
Take my hand, follow my step across the rubble of a city
The war has all but obliterated –they way it did in Ieper
In nineteen fourteen-eighteen where another woman in a red dress
-her sister or her double ganger- also begins to sway and move
To the music of those dimly heard violins that I hear so clearly
As I want to take her into my arms and wipe away with the sponge
Of love, all pain from the world she has known. So, she dances
In two cities and I, I am so taken by this that I forgive all destruction
And waste and say that even that has been worth it if it leads to this
Poem in which I dance with her as I want to dance with her
Down what used to be the central tree-lined avenues of the city
That has fallen again and again. Beauty in a red dress,
The bombers destruction and the cold indolence of aftermath-
Nothing matters except the beauty even though in Darfur
Her red dress marks her out from the rest and she cannot dance
But is raped again and again and we stand by, watching and helpless
And the councils leaders gather in do little more than pay a cheap
Lip service to the living. My ‘sin’ is no worse than theirs and so
I forgive myself where I should do more than ask her for her hand
To dance across the dust of a refugee camp in November.
Forgive me, forgive us all, as only you, woman in a red dress
Can do. The rest is best left unsaid though I have said so much
As if to appease the pain welling up in my heart.
For her sake, all things for her sake as befits the beautiful.
I cannot escape this. Her red dress is so compelling as are
The steps she takes and the gestures she makes as to make me
Forget that all this takes place in Poland on the eve of its destruction.
Yet I cannot wail. I mourn and mourn but beauty overwhelms me
To the point of silence and forgetfulness. I force myself to remember
Her sisters and brothers and the lives they have led
And are leading. Art is cruel, life is short and in between poetry makes
A stab at the beautiful heart. I have loved nothing more than I have loved
This and even her red dress becomes part of all that I would celebrate
And pitch against the wailing of the world. Forgive the cruelty involved.
Forgive the cold heart that cries out for anything other than justice and bread.
Forgive that I have said what I have said.