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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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.

gedichte über blumen

gedichte über blumen

Buds and fresh leaves on top of shoots above a parkein jeder blumenkranz
ein jedes sommerlied

jede hochgemute knospe
ja jeder nadelfeine halm

ist eine kriegserklärung
an den krieg

Close-up of poppy flower with dew or rain on it, above other red, orange, purple, and white flowers.

eine nichtigkeitserklärung
des nichts

eine liebeserklärung
an die liebe

an alle
ans all

Christina Egan © 2014

Photographs: Christina Egan © 2014 / 2016.


My insistence on writing poems about flowers is a reaction to Bertolt Brecht’s often-quoted suggestion that a conversation about trees borders on criminal negligence because it is silent about atrocities. In the poem An die Nachgeborenen from the 1930’s he exclaims:

“Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!”

Brecht’s idea is  startling and ingenious; but I hold that all praise of a flower or a bud is a praise of life and peace: ‘a declaration of war / against War… a declaration of love / to Love.’

Also, if you have read a few of my poems, you will have noticed that they do not describe flowers and trees alone, but use them as images for human life and joy, suffering and death. ‘Poems about flowers’ has 35 words — but amongst them are ‘nothingness’ and ‘the universe’!

The Spirits of Nimrod

The Spirits of Nimrod

The Spirits of Nimrod
stood tall and stood fast
to guard empty castles
of empires past.

The spirits of marble
were shaken at last:
their wings broken off,
their beards ground to dust.

The proud heads of Nimrod
are curls without face,
their eloquent pedestals
frames without phrase.

Yet some still have lips
to whisper by dusk
and some stir their wings
deep under the mud.

The Spirits of Nimrod
will rise like the sun,
invincible eagles:
beware when they come!

Christina Egan © 2016

Ruins with many columns in arid, hilly land.

Invaluable buildings and sculptures of great antiquity and beauty have recently been destroyed by Daesh (so-called Islamic State). Nimrod was one place affected by those war crimes and Palmyra another.

These lines evoke the return of the gods — not as pagan deities but as statues: as witnesses of history and works of art, which we worship in our own way and will reconstruct, recreate, document, or remember.

Photograph: Diocletian’s camp in Palmyra, Syria (2010). By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.