Der Graben

Der Graben

Meine Kraft sinkt wie der Sand
durch das Sieb der Müdigkeit…
Zum Zerbrechen angespannt
schwankt mein langgeschwächter Leib.

Her springt niemand, denn ich zwinge
knapp mich von des Grabens Rand,
eh’ er meinen Schritt verschlinge,–
meine Not bleibt unbekannt.

Unbenannt bleibt meine Fehde
mit dem trüben Grabeshauch:
Die Gesellschaft scheut die Rede
von des Giftes stummem Lauf.

Auch mein Mut sinkt wie der Sand
durch das Sieb der Müdigkeit…
Schreite ich durchs Schattenland
ungelebter Lebenszeit.

Christina Egan © 2018

This elegy could be about drugs or 
medical drugs – or toxic substances 
in the environment.

I hold that with all our ‘progress’, we
are gradually poisoning ourselves:
a cruel collective suicide.

The End of Lent

Sext
(Midday prayer)

Amidst a day of darkness,
amidst a life of fight,
the pillars and the organ
build up a vault of light.

Somebody must be present
to hear the silent screams!
There’s help past understanding,
there’s hope beyond all dreams.

But where do you keep hiding?
O Lord, who has left whom?
Dispense a drop of mercy
on each of us this noon.

Christina Egan © 1998


The End of Lent

There’s more to life behind the troubled scene,
more light than mighty, timeless words can mean:
there is a truth that never lies,
a truth that fills the earth
with fragrant breath.

There’s more than we can fathom and esteem,
or ask for, seek for, need, desire, dream:
there is a love that never dies,
a love that will give birth
in very death.

Christina Egan © 1999

Curling Up

Curling Up

I’m curling up
against the cold
against the world

its random roar
its lazy contempt
its glacial loneliness

Buds and fresh leaves on top of shoots above a parkI’m curling up
with the sky in my mind
and the sun in my heart

around a seed
already unfurling
and then: uncurling

Christina Egan © 2014

 

I am at Home in the Darkness

I.

I am at home in the darkness.
At least, dreams shine more brightly here,
lanterns among phantoms,
gold grains in the drifting sand.

Only my dreams
are real,
are true.

II.Passionflower with bee, colours inverted to create psychedelic purple structure.

All those who wish to die
crave for life, life, lost
in this cavern of wandering shades,
crazed by the thirst for a garden.

Only those who wish to die
are aware,
are alive.

Christina Egan © 2014

Photographs: Christina Egan © 2014 / 2016.


I assume that very, very often when someone feels they want to die or are about to die, they are simply physically unwell — or simply overtired — or simply literally in the dark. If this insight informed our science and our society, we could manage our lives so much better.

The date these three poems were written is significant: it was mid-February, which is when I (like everyone in the northern hemisphere) feels the dark and cold most bitterly, because halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox, the various reserves of our bodies are dangerously low. From late February on, things get better, and this is not a mental phenomenon (little flowers can, after all, not cure leaden fatigue) but a physical fact.

am kalten kamin / Winter Sunset

am kalten kamin

die eingerahmten flammen
von süßer sonnenkraft
sinken in sich zusammen
in kalter mitternacht

das feuer das dich blendet
in wildem geisterglanz
hat sich zuletzt verschwendet
zu tode sich getanzt

eh noch der morgen graute
liegt ausgelaugt der herd
und über deinem haupte
hängt sichtbar nun das schwert

Christina Egan © 2017


Winter Sunset

If only I could fly
across the icy sky
into the dying sun,
so all my tears,
my wants and fears
and wanderings would be none.

If only I could fall
into the fiery ball
and warm and melt away,
and then be shot,
a sparkling dot,
into a new-born day.

Christina Egan © 2003


Image: No title. René Halkett (1938). Image with kind permission of Galerie Klaus Spermann.

This is the End (Yet all will be well)

This is the End

Most days are too harsh, and most days are too dark,
and most hours are trundling along through a void,
while the moons fade away, barely leaving a ray,
and proud cities, piled up to the clouds, are destroyed.

Yet all will be well, yes, it yet will be well,
and all manner of things will be well in the end,
when in fathomless bliss like a fathomless kiss
all the stars, all the spirits will brighten and blend.

Christina Egan © 2004


Lines five and six are a quote from Sister Julian of Norwich,
an English hermit and mystic who lived six hundred years ago.

In Advent, which this year starts today, Christians also think of
the inevitable and terrifying end of the world.

Massive stone walls piled upon each other

The Tower of Jericho, around 9,000 years old. Photograph:
Reinhard Dietrich (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
.

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.

August Night / Nur Asche zu essen

August Night

The night is short and moist and sweet,
with secret sprouting life replete…
and stark and bitter all the same.

There is no peace on golden wings,
there is no peace from silver limbs…
only a tiny steady flame.

Christina Egan © 2012


In the midst of abundant midsummer,
the narrator has not found peace — neither
through prayer or meditation nor through
the presence of a beloved person.

The following poem laments the unborn dead,
whose graves are nameless and forgotten and
who never saw the light of the sun although
angels may have taken them elsewhere…


Nur Asche zu essen

Nur Asche zu essen,
nur Lehm statt Brot,
nur Erde zu wissen:
der bitterste Tod.

Den Leib ohne Atem,
das Aug ohne Licht,
das Grab ohne Namen:
das schärfste Gericht.

Die niemals Gebornen,
fast ohne Gewicht,
von Engeln Verborgnen:
Vergesset sie nicht.

Christina Egan © 2018

Solstice Scroll

Solstice Scroll

I break some rare and short-lived flowers,
I sacrifice some sunshine hours
for Melpomene’s altar steps.
Since Phaeton’s horses thunder higher
with ever more abundant fire,
I’ll finish ere the day-star sets.

I’ll call upon Apollo’s powers,
I’ll stand amongst the cypress towers
around my children’s hidden tomb.
I’ll write my elegy and sing it,
I’ll scroll it up, stand up and fling it
into the bright barge of the moon.

Christina Egan © 2018

Straight Roman road with ruins and trees to the left and right, in the dusk

Roman road in Carthage, Tunisia.
Photograph: Christina Egan © 2014

au jour des ténèbres

au jour des ténèbres

Three tall gothic windows with modern stained galss, abstract and subdued.au jour des ténèbres
une chandelle dansait
au jour des funèbres
une fleur étincelait

à l’heure de silence
une voix m’a touché
à l’heure de souffrance
une main m’a brossé

à l’aube très lente
une étoile est surgie
dans l’âme patiente
la lueur s’élargit

comme si la souffrance
se tintait de bleu
ô douce espérance
qui baigne les yeux

Christina Egan © 2018

This poem was inspired by a French church service where the words ‘souffrance’… ‘silence’… ‘patience’… seemed to echo in the dark church on a dull Good Friday…

Windows in St Nicholas, Ghent. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2018.

Obituary (I Think I Died Last Night)

Obituary

Deep-pink rose over, bent in the snow, with pond in background.I think I died last night,
but none of you noticed.

You talk to me as if
you were talking to me!

The clocks are ticking,
the coffee is dripping…

Even the sun is smiling
while I pretend to carry on.

I was a fount of life,
never looked at, never listened to.

I was an orphan on earth.
I have to write my own obituary.

Christina Egan © 2012

Tottenham Cemetery, London.
Photograph: Christina Egan © 2017.