Christopher Leland




On the Hephestion of Athens

                                        for Bertolt Brecht

We built, as we were told, the Parthenon.
It sparkled bright, to all Athenians’ pride,
Athena clad in ivory and in gold.
We were to make the summit of the world,
and so we toiled with crane and chisel till
our work was through for that world to behold.

And then, in the Agoura, common place
where slave and serf and citizen all roamed
we raised our own Hephaestion—the shrine
made for our homely god, the one who fell,
the injured one who labored still to forge
the bolts of Zeus. The cuckold god, whose wife
found play with warriors better than her time
beside the lame one, rank with sweat and smoke
and calloused hands with burns in black and red.

And yet, a hundred generations lost,
it’s this one that remains most concinnite.
A ruin, yes, the paint we lavished gone,
but with a couple weeks we’d have it up
and roofed and ready for our priests to pray.

We are the kind of men who knew our god,
the one who kept us from the broken bones,
the amputations, poisons of the blood,
the suppurations, agues—He’d prefer
a place amid the stink of common folk
who’d pass before his portico and smile,
and then, he knew, would dawdle for a while.

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Three Poems for 9/11

Innocence

                                        11 September 2008

Remember Chandra Levi, christened for a Hindu moon god?
One whole summer, she obsessed us, vanished in the stews
of Washington, D.C. She, lover of a Congressman.
His victim, too?
                        Throughout July and August, we consumed
the juicy details, sweet as savory ribs or piquant breasts
of chicken hot from barbecues. Each salty detail or
salacious claim just fed our appetite for charming Chandra.

As yet another month began alive with innuendo,
speculation, interviews with pundits, parents, friends,
(such sage discussions!) as the nightly news beat dizzy froths
like high meringues, it looked like we’d gorge on our sweetest Chandra
through Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, up until December snowfalls.

The following year, a jogger chanced on bones in Rock Creek Park.
It hadn’t been her Congressman at all (though he’d long since
departed power’s halls). It turned out that our Chandra’d been
another victim of the random crime that stalks our streets—
regardless if metropolis or sleepy, country town.

It seems so odd her death loomed massive, weighty all that summer.
It seems unfair how no one cared when that dead girl was found.

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Paracme

                                        10 September 2001

They are those days that shine with special sadness,
the splendor of a man who’s reached his prime:
the acme of his strength, his wit, and yet
there are first intimations of decline.

The days still warm, but not July’s hot breath,
in these sweet noons there comes a sense of fall,
the knowledge that the year’s apex is past
and will, with winter, slip beyond recall.

If years were nations, these days typify
the decades of imperial content—
congratulation, calm, a certain peace,
self-satisfaction, summer not yet spent.

But still—that nagging sense, at any peak,
meridian is past. We should remember
death comes for every man, and year, and world.
We’re here at summer’s end.
                                           It is September.

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Herostratus

                                        for Muhammed Atta

Tonight, I shave each hair
from brows to feet. A child again.
New Hampshire. Comfort Inn.
Tomorrow, I will go home.

                 ***

Below, the river shines to light my way.
I think of Ephesus: the blazing shrine.
A man picked up a torch and challenged Wonders.
Today, I am that man to sunder time.

Like angels, clipping shafts like swords,
we skim the towered ramparts
of the very soul of sin.
We missile down the canyon . . .

                 ***

I am steadfast in my duty.
(Will my name live on forever?)
I can see their wondered faces
as they see the face of God.

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