Poetry | September 01, 1991

Featuring the poems:


Late Empire

The hours, ripe apples, hang. The pleasure boats

dapple the artificial lake, the women

shadowed by silk parasols, hands caressing water,


the men in powdered wigs, half-dozing at

the oars, and above the palace of Versailles

the globe airostatique, tasseled and swollen,


a Fabergé egg, labors to the sky

with its wicker basket cargo—a puzzled drake,

a rooster, a goat dubbed Climb-into-Heaven —


the brays and crowing wavering above

a hundred thousand pointing fingers, and the din

giving way to collective gasp, the one breath


inhaled, exhaled, novitiates all; the halcyon

days before the bells of sirens peal, blackout,

a night sky riddled with searchlights. But here?


The Screaming Blue Messiahs erupt from the stage.

Drums hiss at bass; the giant shaved-headed

singer strikes a pose, a chord, hulking


maniacally into The Wild Blue Yonder

amid a light show of dive-bombers—Stukas—careening

ever downward, feedback ricocheting


the walls. London, the Town and Country Club,

and I’ve lost you in a riot of green spiked hair,

slam dance, combat boots, the crowd awaiting


the next upheaval, the storming of the palaces

of the ancien régime … If I die in a combat zone

box me up and ship me home . Footage


of fire, Dresden and its million pounds of napalm,

the singer clubbing his guitar to wire

and splinters on the stage, and I’ve lost you


to the noise and tidal dance floor. I am

the destroyer, I am the des-troy-er.

A skinhead waves a broken bottle at


a scared Bengali kid, and the light show

bends their flight to slow-mo; the kid leans down,

hugs himself while his friends crowd by, his sleeve


in bloody shreds. The room speaks the language

of last summer’s recurring dream: the terrible

incinerating light has come, the dead


frozen black to the wheels of their cars, and I weave

a path among them to a house no longer standing,

call you in the way I call you now,


deaf to my own voice, and it’s now

I see you lifted skyward by the crowd,

passed with half a dozen others on raised arms,


weightlessly buoyed to the music’s stammer,

passed backward and forward across the dance floor,

a zigzag slither, until you finally come to rest,


earthbound again, on wobbly feet by a dull red

EXIT sign, and I’m threading my way through the faces

to reach you, shards of the guitar tossed snarling


to a sea of hands…. And when the balloon reaches

three hundred feet, an early fall wind propels it

beyond the lake, His Majesty’s deer park,


the ersatz peasant village of the Queen,

and when it blunders and falls to a field ten miles

away, imagine the terror-struck farmers and milkmaids,


lamenting the fall of the moon. Before them the goat,

no longer dazed, grazes on some clover;

the broken-winged rooster staggers in circles.


Now fear has raised a hundred pitchforks and scythes.

Now the fallen moon, and its cargo, must die.

How can we blame them? They set the field on fire.

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