Jeannette Montgomery Barron, Feather, April 1992, Connecticut.
The Ossuary at Kutná Hora
We have walked the pilgrimage well beyond
the wall’s shock of cinders, to where the paths
are tributaries and skulls above the chapel
doors string out like party crepe.
And where we pay to see the bones of legend
breed in holy dust, a prayer booth
hawks a bunting of postcards. No one comes to pray.
The skulls that lost a nation, Hussite
boys, lie beneath their shells of mace;
the skulls in whose domes the bleached
odor of plague outlives the lime and soap
have soured down to stone. We are told a half
blind monk had gouged the sockets of their eyes
to build a pyramid of stairs to heaven.
We won’t kneel beneath the altar’s heap
to dig for silver relics. Or bow to hip bones
gripping the haloed gable. Our cameras pray
for light to keep from fading, for the canvas
of a boy appealing to the knees of grace
to keep from vanishing by permission
of the crown. What Bohemian prelate
gave to the earth its seal for engraving
such symmetry in death, the leisurely ascent
to form on ropes of femurs and fibulae?
Above the pulpit’s stiff stair to faith,
a chandelier lights the exalted. There is no
room for the lowly in the frame of our lens.
Dying has a habit of running out of space.
The remains of 40,000 bodies of the
wealthy decorate the Sedlec monastery.
There goes the night not knowing what
it is seeing. A boy has cut his lip shaving
and rinsed the basin free of blood
his hand had salved into the mind for no thought
in particular. At dawn he shot a heron.
He must have forgiven the debt his teacher
owed, perhaps, the promise of the moon
above his head forever, or a noun
his erratic tongue had failed to annunciate.
He might have counted as redemption
each lace of breath the girl had stroked
into his wailing hair at St. Vitus Lake.
He must have known. There ring the bells
he must have known were saved at Tyn
for Palach, for the first to run; the pact
to torch imagination remembers only one,
no matter what the name, what the home.
He believed it is the found wisdom of an age
not to forgive the sins of a nation,
how the catacombs at Staré Mesto
age with molding chalk of poets’ bones.
Here comes the imitator echoing stolen words.
Here runs the conspirator across the cat heads
of Karluv most, every rib of stone
a memory of loss, a birth into the every tongue,
saying there goes the wind not knowing what
it is hearing. There crawls a leaf, a moon,
and flames. There trips the clock’s second hand,
which every moment tumbles deeper
into everywhere like a cough into a lung.
There goes a noun, unpronounced, into obscurity.