Wilfred Owen at Twenty-Five

I’d love to be a sweep, now, black as Town,
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?

Wilfred Owen, “A Terre”

The hardest is this silence in the fields
the trenches have filled with flowers

and the sleepy canal falls at your knees
a mud of earth and heaven not blood

But death is the same in every climate
the edge where no edge exists

You changed from ruddy youngster
to warrior with a blasted head

from child to animal
back to child again

Yet nothing of that day remains
At twenty-five you had penned

everything you would
in the hour of separation from this silence

and from that distance yet
the silence is filled

 

Pakistan

Shoehorned into a year’s memory
between the sleepy domes of blue and gold

and the fire of markets of filigree and silk
along a road that climbs interminably

through boulders round as church domes
on a desert mountain’s sharp slope

falling miles into the canyon below
in a painted bus with tassels shaking

like dancers to the cries
of the wild high-pitched choir

on a transistor radio taped to the dash
bass notes bumped on an axle drumbeat

dropping finally down
into Lahore

where the first night leaving a theater
in the sweat and grumbling of a crowd of men

disquieted by James Bond’s brazen women
I remember the first stone of my stoning

and turn to remember the morning
long hours on the Khyber Pass

the bus held up by a giant boulder
blocking the road narrow as a vein

and together all the men heave with one shoulder
and it rolls off into the unknown

crashing on forever down the canyon
and thinking the silence will not kill us

but each action sets in motion
the destruction of another dream

 

Distance on Aran

I feel a kinship with the children of Dún Aonghasa
halfmoon fort cut into a cliff above the sea

those who must have stood here once
fearing the world beyond the half circle wall

the battles that ended in survival or decision
the sea loud and terrible far below

I stand on their edge three hundred feet
above the rocky surf in the silence of their battles

as if I were myself at ten eyeing the inevitable
the long drop and how a body falls indefinitely

how you float on air as the birds rise up
on currents curious of the commotion

Or like the monks who sailed to escape
the well-wishers the demanding devotees

rowed off into the sunsets of half-certain death
looking for seclusion and a meditative life

And here mists of heaven and earth mingle
but will heaven catch everything that falls

The sea with her motherly arms like silk flags
somehow more than the anger behind you

somehow more than the world
with its hunger and cold on the edge of a cliff

Here and now the nearness of old slaughter
the pull of mother earth the spray of tears

crashing up from forbidden sea and rock
without exit or escape how all must learn

edges to face the decisions to be made
common days when rain mixes with blood

 

Street Life in Ventspils, Latvia

Streets no longer red but yellow
and green and the fall of things meets the fall

in thirty years since the Russian retreat
and the leaves gather into piles of gold

Now drunks are free on Saturday nights
to call out to their lost loves

and Sunday mornings the town hall rings
bells of the old Lutheran church

Along the narrow cobblestones
graffiti returns to themes of love and loss

and black limousines no longer
prowl the forests at night

Standing in the shallow of the century
I greet the cats of an abandoned milk factory

sitting in the windows of old cinderblock
without a thought of revenge

and watch as they sleepily chase
fat pigeons off the sills on a whim

 

George Moore’s poetry collections include Children’s Drawings of the Universe (Salmon Poetry 2015) and Saint Agnes Outside the Walls (FurureCycle 2016). He has published in Poetry, Colorado Review, The Atlantic, and Orion. A finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Brittingham Award, and recently longlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue and Ginkgo Prizes, he lives with his wife, a Canadian poet, on the south shore of Nova Scotia.