Sestina: After the Crucifixion
(i.m. Kosovo, 1999)
Consider that soldier tossing dice for
rags: he'd rather gamble than believe—
and who could blame him, so bred to metal
and to leather, to the phalanx, the sharpened
sword; stationed without appeal among angry
aliens at home in their own skins?
Everywhere the stench of death: the skin
breached, a limb severed. An eye gouged for
an eye. Rubicons crossed each angry
hour. In this arena, who can believe
beyond the present? who looks to the end
of the longest day? Not those crouched men, all
eyes on the roll. I'm with them too—we're all
in it above the rags, below the skin,
thorns, nails, rough-hewn wood, not far from opened
wounds, from thirst quenched with vinegar, for
these days, we find it futile to believe
in innocence or in guilt, in the angry
conscience threading its way through angry
alleys. We've learned a trick: never tell
what we know, never confess belief
in the brush of fingers, familiar skin,
the contours of a common face, for
the lesson taught here is that the end
lurks around the corner, where a man sharpens
a stolen knife. That man's feeding his anger.
And like us, he's rolling the dice, praying for
the right mix of force and gravity, that all
might go to hell but his own pocked skin.
The planets may pull his dice right: he believes
in that chance—and in the absence of belief,
in the omnipotence of the sharp end
and quick eye, the sanctity of his skin,
the endurance of an ancient anger,
the final rectitude of metal,
the triumph of chaos over form.
To him, "belief" is only this angry
hope: that a thrust of sharpened metal
will save his skin. What else could he live for?