War and Peace (Red Fog / Green Shoots)

War and Peace

I.

Red Fog

Red fog rose
from the bloody river
when Baghdad’s proud walls
crumbled to dust.

The sobbing, the gasping
rose with the fog,
scratched the blank sky
till it wept blood.

High soared the blinking blades,
higher the cries of triumph,
down on the broken timber,
the toys forlorn in the ash.

Red ran the Tigris,
bearing pots and books and bodies
down through the desert,
frayed crimson silk.

Decorative brick with symmetrical floral motiv, deeply incised.

II.

Green Shoots

Green shoots, vibrant,
blue buds, brilliant,
climbing the trellis
of ten thousand tiles.

The tall white walls,
the wide white courtyards,
the shimmering basins:
those were the flags of peace.

Not the carpets of ash
which the conquest leaves,
nor the polished parchment
where the truce is signed.

Peace is the pomegranate
in the smooth wooden bowl,
peace is the spinning-top
on the deep-green glaze.

Christina Egan © 2003 (I) / © 2018 (II)

These poems were inspired by the massacre of 1248 when the Mongols took Baghdad, but they can be applied to any war Mesopotamia has seen in the course of the millennia, or indeed to any other part of the world…

Brick from Baghdad, mid-13 century. Photograph: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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By the River I was Sitting

By the River I was sitting

By the River I was sitting
Watching barges floating by
Like the clouds so full of promise
In the blue and burning sky

Bearing jewels, bearing silver
From the mountains crowned with snow
Bearing spices, sweet and fiery
From the jungles down below

By the River I was waiting
For a boat to pick me up
Till the oars were folded inward
And the city-gates were shut

On my roof-top I was watching
Night like lapis-lazuli
While the stars were slowly rolling
Round the tiny lonely me

By Two Rivers I was dwelling
In a house of golden bricks
In my dress of snow and silver
Waving to intrepid ships

When the stars had come full circle
Strangers broke my city-gate
And my boat lay by the palm-trees
Finest date-wine was its freight

And it flew against the current
And it floated with the storm
Till I climbed the purple mountains
Where the River Twins are born

Christina Egan © 2011

Jar, elegantly curved, with brown and blue glaze.

 

This song of the woman by the river is taken
from my stage play The Bricks of Ur  (© 2011).

Place: City of Ur, Mesopotamia — Time: 2000 B.C.

Photograph: Assyrian jar (9th to 7th c. BC).
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Spätes Wiederfinden

Spätes Wiederfinden

I.

Die strohgedeckten Hütten sind verschüttet,
und in den Säulengängen haust der Wind.
Mir ist, als spürt’ ich unter meinen Sohlen,
wo eigne Schritte eingezeichnet sind.

Ich schliff das Pflaster unter den Sandalen,
ich legte jenes Pferd ins Mosaik;
ich wurde dort am Wegesrand begraben
mit meinem Krug voll Kummer und voll Glück.

Very irregular pavement.

II.

Mir scheint, ich hätt’ schon vor Jahrhunderten
in deinen Augen wie ein Gast gewohnt.
Und wenn ich nur den Schlüssel wiederfände,
dann hätt’ auch dieses Leben sich gelohnt…

Was zählen da die wenigen Jahrzehnte,
in denen wir einander jetzt versäumt?
Ein kleiner Aufenthalt in deinen Augen
bringt, was ich in Jahrtausenden erträumt.

Christina Egan © 2011


The fifth year of this poetry blog sets off, as always, with a Roman road or another ancient road!

In the first poem, someone finds the place where they lived and died in a former existence; in the second one, they think they have also found their former love…

The location is imaginary. The three images for the former life all have to do with the earth: the feet and shoes; the mosaics in the floor; the grave by the wayside. Two of the images also refer to wandering, our wandering on earth: the soles wearing the pavement down and the horse in the mosaic. The second poem mentions the status of guest; as the psalms express it, we are all guests on earth.


Photograph: Christina Egan © 2016.  International highway, Via Domitia, crossing the forum of Narbonne. I suppose this bit had been much damaged and patched up, since the Romans built entirely straight and smooth roads!

Nächster Halt: Potsdamer Platz

Nächster Halt: Potsdamer Platz

Schwingt ihre Hüften und wippt ihre Füße
fröhlich die Straßenbahn, macht einen Satz,–
weben Zylinder und Wagenradhüte,
Kappen und Häubchen am Potsdamer  Platz!

Strahlen geschwungene Straßenlaternen,
äugen Gesichter aus blumigem Putz,
lachen Plakate und wirbeln und werben:
Pflückt euch das Leben am Potsdamer Platz!

Längst sind zu Staub die Fassaden zerstoben,
längst ist verklungen Berlins Karussell,–
aber im Geiste, dem Zeitlauf enthoben,
dreht es sich kunterbunt, munter und schnell.

Christina Egan © 2017

Noble townhouse with rich stucco ornaments and rose-tree.

This poem is the middle part of my Berlin Triptych, together with Nächster Halt: Bahnhof Zoo and Nächster Halt: Flughafen Schönefeld. Someone arrives at Zoo Station, then passes Potsdamer Platz on a round-trip, and leaves from Schönefeld airport.

For an English poem about the same square, go to Glass Mountain (Potsdamer Platz).

Photograph: Noble townhouse in Berlin — one inspiration for these lines! Christina Egan © 2016.

Glass Mountain (Potsdamer Platz)

Glass Mountain
(Potsdamer Platz)

Lights above you, lights around you,
shifting blue and mauve and pink,
lights below you, lights surround you,
pierce the black and loom and shrink.

Glass fronts of enormous silos
mask the dusk and stare and blink,
figures wander in the windows,
lifts in tubes float up and sink.

Water basins spread around you
shifting blue and mauve and pink,
glass roofs open in the ground, too,
names flare up in mirror print.

Glass façades and water fountain
multiply the hum and glint:
you have stepped inside a mountain,
you are trapped in steely pink,

trapped beside a thousand others,
lulled by murmur and gay tunes,
screened from sun and stars and weathers
by a tent-roof in sweet blues.

Futuristic glass buildings, pointed and rounded, illuminated in blue and pink; in the corner, old facade visible beneath.Then you see the stucco hover,
curling in a livid tint;
chandeliers unfurl and quiver;
then you hear the glasses clink…

Have you dreamt of the Titanic
or of old Potsdamer Platz?
No, this is the real relic,
the hotel that dodged the Blitz

and kept spinning through the nightmare
of the void swept by the wind –
sad and splendid sole survivor
under glass and neon pink.

Christina Egan © 2017

Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz, with old façade visible beneath the glass (here, in pink). Photograph: Pedelecs by Wikivoyage and Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

For a German poem on the old, vanished, Potsdamer Platz, look at the sonnet Nächster Halt: Potsdamer Platz.

The Dance of the Sacks

The Dance of the Sacks

There’s the war tax and the peace tax
There’s the core tax and the fleece tax
There’s the fish tax and the spice tax
There’s the poll tax and the vice tax!

There’s the whisper of a tax-plan
There’s the whistle of the tax-man!

There’s the old tax and the new tax
There’s the wool tax and the wheat tax
There’s the old tax for the new sacks
And the new tax for the old sacks!

There’s the tax-man with his tablet
It’s a state-protected racket!

Christina Egan © 2011

Small clay tablet with cuneiform text.

This comical song for a jig is taken from my stage play The Bricks of Ur  (© 2011) set around 2000 BC.

The tax collectors could wield either Sumerian clay tablets or 21st century electronic tablets!

I must have been inspired by a hilarious jig in one of the first seasons of Shakespeare’s Globe in London…

Receipt for 13 woolen garments, ca. 2038 BC. Photograph by Rama, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr [CeCILL or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr] via Wikimedia Commons.

Minerva’s Voyage

Minerva’s Voyage

I.

Minerva by Botticelli

Her hair is the offspring of river and fire,
her robe has been woven from flowers and wind.
Her foot cannot rest and her flesh cannot tire,
her arm is in flow and her eye will inspire
a voyage for wisdom with one  fleeting glint.

II.

Minerva on the Academy of Athens

She dived like a hawk from her shadowless sphere,
the shield on her arm like the sun in the west –
She looms on the roof with her helmet and spear
to capture the lightning, conduct it down here
and spark our restless and glittering quest.

Christina Egan © 2016

Delicate, pale, portrait of the goddess as a young woman in armour.Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and knowledge, arts and applied arts; she came to be identified with the Greek goddess Athena, patron of Athens.

The two poems were  inspired by the two artworks mentioned, as well as a temple on the Agora of Athens dedicated to her as patron of artists and artisans.

Illustration: Minerva by Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1482-83), via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).