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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August (Hell ist mein Herz) / Amseln und Schwalben

August

Hell ist mein Herz
unterm Kornblumenblau
in der Wiege der goldenen Hügel.

Steil steigt es auf
mit dem Schwalbengepfeif,
denn es reiften ihm stämmige Flügel.

Christina Egan © 2010


Written for a wedding anniversary in August.
Midsummer also stands for the middle of life
and for the fullness of life.

The next poem was written in May, when
summer is unfolding with the exultation of
blackbirds and swallows.

Double rainbow above park, with grey sky and sunlit building.

Amseln und Schwalben

Im Saum des bewimpelten Wipfels,
im Dämmer erquickenden Tröpfelns
entfalten die Amseln Voluten
von Flötentönen und Fluten
von Jubel in wechselnden Wind!

Und lauter und lauter schon pfeifen
und höher und höher schon streifen
die Schwalben in schwindende Wolken,
als warte der Morgen schon golden…
Ein Regenbogen erglimmt.

Christina Egan © 2017

Double rainbow in Lund, Sweden. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2017.

Wer schaut (Wer lauscht)

Wer schaut

Wer schaut,
sieht, wie die seltenen Wolken ziehen,
über die Firste entfliehen,
und dann, wie der Himmel blaut.
Bloß blaut.

Wer lauscht,
hört die stumme Amsel
das heiße trockene Gras durchstreifen
und den seltenen Wind sich erheben,
wie er die blühenden Büsche bauscht.

Tall purple verbena with two white butterflies, one sitting, one flying, with its wings spread out.Wer lauscht,
hört die Schwalben pfeifen
und weiß, daß die Heiterkeit
noch eine Zeit bleibt
vor dem Herbst.

Wer schaut,
sieht die Blaubeeren reifen
im selben sommersatten Rotviolett
wie das ragende Eisenkraut…
und auf dem matten Blaubeerlaub
den winzigen flatternden Schatten
und dann den wolkenweißen
Schmetterling selbst.

Wer lauscht,
schweigt
in ein leuchtendes Schweigen hinein.

Wer schaut,
begreift
und darf sein.

Christina Egan © 2018

Garden with a few colourful flowers and berries in the foreground.

Photographs: Christina Egan © 2013 (butterflies) / © 2014 (garden).

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.

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 Mooness Grows / Die Mondin rollt

The Mooness Grows

The Mooness grows: she’s almost round.
She steps out of a wooded mound.
She knows:
The sea will swell, the sap will well,
a thousand creatures will give birth.
The earth
is restless, waiting for Queen Moon
and for King Sun to round her girth,
her life.
The fruit is red, the fruit is ripe.
The Mooness strews her silent spell:
She glows.

Christina Egan © 2016


Die Mondin rollt

Die Mondin rollt, ein Bronzegong,
vom vielgezackten Horizont
das königsblaue Rund empor.
Ihr hoheitsvoller Ruf erschallt,
bis alles bebend widerhallt
in Stein und Blatt, in Bein und Ohr.

Noch einmal steigt, noch einmal loht
nach Mittagsglut und Abendrot
des vollen Sommers Vollmondschein.
Der Bronzegong um Mitternacht
hat neues Leben angefacht
in Ohr und Bein, in Blatt und Stein.

Christina Egan © 2016


These two poems about the ‘Mooness’ are very similar (and written at the same time) but not translations of each other.

In Greek and Latin, the moon is linguistically and mythologically female, and we should have such a word in English and German.

As a woman, I feel instinctively related to the powerful moon and all life cycles — irrespective of reproductive capacity or activity.

Under the Blue Bloom of the Tree

Under the Blue Bloom of the Tree

Under the blue bloom of the tree,
O little mouse, I buried thee.
I heard thee often run until
I saw thee lying, small and still.
So high the sky, so late the light
ascending to midsummernight…
The deep warm earth is now thy bed,
with snow-white petals for a spread.
Fresh spikes of lavender I chose
and last, a minuscule red rose.
Tonight, the ceanothus tree
will scatter sky-blue dust on thee.

Christina Egan © 2017

White and coloured petals on the ground, beneath ceanothus and carnation.

The mouse grave in the poem. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2017.