In Memory of Francisco Goya, Los desastres de la guerra
Habit moves the lover’s hand, the torturer’s
instruments, the doctor’s knife; habit
squeezes the trigger of the full stop and marches
armies down paths that plural into grave;
habit pens the zek in his cubicle, backlit
with boredom, and habit drinks the night
flooding like lacquer, depthless and lachrymose,
the intellectual at his vanity;
habit cancels separation and irons death
into smooth sheets of memory skin;
habit unhinges suffering and turns the eye
away from starving faces under
the brush and eddy of postulating flies,
flies so thick they turn eyelids to stone.
We laugh with habit at love betrayed and trust
dishonored under our rusting gaze;
we search to find the back of Medusa’s eyes
where all her frozen images live
that we might know, shadowed by her woven snakes,
the stone-engendering joy of hatred.
Nails, fires and crowds are driven, lit and roused by
habit masked in harsh, hate-hardened faith.
Mobs bellow with anonymous rage, screams boil
from bodies in fire’s anatomy,
nails searching between the radius and ulna
find the golgothean gap to hard wood.
Yehohanan son of Hagakoi died from
iron nails two thousand years ago,
the implacable judgment of Roman law,
and habit drove them as it drives us
now to feed flesh on the indifferent beak of war
clacking, clacking insatiably
on this anarchic flesh that clothes us with ardor
and clogs us with stultification.
Habit once burst into flame on the bramble bush
without scorching its thorns, sharp as nails,
and left unalterable and implacable law
to name “I shall be that I shall be.”
Sweeping across heaven, the Medusa weaves her
serpents into storm clouds billowing
with the cortical convolutions of the brain
she mimics in its thoughts and desires:
violent in death as false in peace, twisted
with all the intricacy of deception.
Sweeping across heaven, the Medusa-headed
storm clouds deafen fire-pointed thorns,
hollow eyes fixed below, fixed in their study of
all life on this grain and amber earth.
Nothing escapes the hollow eyes. One almost hears
the turbulent, writhing clouds whisper
“My gift is no longer senseless stone, shadowed
beneath my gentle, guileless serpents;
in place of stone I offer the scattered white
of bones colder than coldest stone.”
The vertebrae lying scattered among burnt weeds
are never simply white, bleached with death,
but faintly brown under the sun staining heat,
under the black sear of the cold moon.
They lie where machetes and clubs scattered them,
but the skulls suffered a rendition,
piled with other skulls in screams silent as stone,
or lonely with grass tonguing their jaws.
Stars, moons, sunsets, desire, hatred and lust once
coursed through the joints fluting their clamor.
The voice of the vertebrae flute never falls
silent, but we lack ears to hear its
hollow pipe now stripped of nerves and living flesh,
the vertebrae flute of extinction.
We’re deaf to the harmonics of suffering Homer
heard so clearly that the drone of flies,
flies pustulating like ulcers on dead bodies,
could never extinguish its music.
From its procreant cradle war feeds centuries,
piling dead upon dead so high they
stifle our ears to everything but the drone
that clusters faces in a black crown.
Millennia on millennia of gravestones stock the world;
their legends crawl across the white stone
aimlessly in gaunt, bone black, infested words
wandering over memories of the lost.
The letters, seen from a thousand years away,
dance with the grace of discarded things.
Faces turn away. Year after year, no one
visits the graves. Only masons work.
Their chisels, forged by the song of vertebrae,
cut words sinuously as a spine.
Ash is the color of war, the color charred
heads assume shriveled into rictus.
They stare from burnt-out cars, framed by window shards,
when hellfire stripped bodies to puppets,
sprawling them eyeless on toothed glass, teeth ashen
in the lipless cavern of the mouth.
The eyes on a target eight thousand miles away
see only ash on the video display.
Eyes along the gun sight see flesh exploding
in a cacophony of color;
it lacks the comforting gray of a gorgon
eye to darken the dismemberment.
Unfurled flesh and flayed bodies weigh memory
with color that resists silting ash.
Memory never sleeps in sleep. Argus-eyed it
searches down to the deepest torment.
Those who pull the trigger never imagine
what Furies will insinuate their mind.
Some struggle home to families, others die
exiled, abandoned to bureaucrats,
who cast their smoky ash in trash dumps to drift
more nameless refuse over refuse.
The rest tend shattered bodies, the afterlife
of dreams, that wake forever in pain,
or find oblivion with the leaden stop that
never lies its way to the cortex.
Hate too claws from that cortical chrysalis,
spun by war, breaking into shadows
somnambulant with death in the morning sun,
serene as they shrink backward from light.
Ash rises, the breath exhaled from crematoria,
filling the air with mouthfuls of pain.
Bodies scooped from the warm ovens fill bags for
the dump, fogging night with gray gangrene,
which slowly gnaws away the darkness to leave
blackened lesions no light can amputate.