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Sevastopol: On Photos of War

Bones, Joints, Flat Feet

This conscript holds the back of a terrace chair,
standing trouser-less and cold, in a damp
examination room at Mercy Hospital.
The intern grips a foot and probes for lumps
or lesions, as if there was a thorn inside,
twisting the knee from its socket joint.
He's fully dressed in uniform for flight,
and cannot see the beauty of this body,
or else he does and does not care,
to send another one off to die. But
the subject of my study is the derriere,
a tight round fist of aubergine,
the hips throned out and restless,
the flesh more supple and pink.
You'd think they'd let him off,
just for this, a prize in any battle
for the sacrament of love. But
the doctor merely scrapes a fingernail
across the ankle and the arch,
finds nothing to prevent the boy
from going, to fly his Kamikaze to the sea.

Collaborateurs, St. Tropez

Paraded up a boulevard of plane trees and umbrella pines
from the Quai Jean Jaures, by the break-neck jetty
where a headless saint with his cock and dog
sailed in from Pisa in 66, six young mothers
and a homosexual man sweat Paul's passion
through Rue Misericorde, up the grassy knoll
to the hexagonal dungeon of the citadel.
Swastikas of ash are fingered on their foreheads
above shaved scalps and tattooed knees--
a girl of twelve holds a blue-eyed child
in her arms, can't even say, like others, she hadn't
wanted to be sleeping with the enemy.
Already the old Greek port has been mined by night,
sacked by the shock troops beached at Pampelonne,
already the Saracens are returning--the naked
bathers, Colette, Cocteau, Brigitte Bardot who lives
for the green parakeets in limp-petaled rock rose,
the cork oaks and convolvulus. But Vichy's
usurpation of the role of Joan of Arc will never be
forgotten, will nor the ones who were burned at the stake
for the sake of those who stayed silent, or resisted.

Destroyed Flying Fortress (Photographer Unknown)

After the automatic eye clicks a frame
of the sky and pivots, we get a glimpse of death's
geography, as seen from above the firestorm
that ravages Berlin, where rivers snake
through smoke-green trees of May.
A Messerschmidt's machine gun fire clips
the wing and cowling off a Flying Fortress
just below us: the black hull sails off in silence,
down to the suicide graves of Kleist,
along the riding paths of the Tegeler See
or drops through curtained eggsshell windowpanes
of Schloss Charlottenburg's gardens
where Schubert sits and plays klavier.
This disembodied airship, like the tonnage
of shrapnel around it, stands frozen
for a moment of its past, looking
like the serpent that swallows its tail
forever, or the eye of God, just as it blinks,
but knowing this is war, and man, in 1945,
we're left to brood and wonder.

At the Nursery of a Locomotive Parts Plant
Near Beijing

Huey Newton and the other Panthers stand around a sandbox
where six single children with little red books
and brush-and-ink sing and dance the tale
of Mao's Long March to the Yellow Sea,
of Ling Ch'ung the Leopard-Headed as he clobbers
the robber-barons in their mountain lair.
Far from the rain-dust streets of Oakland,
where a cop kills a kid for trailing a patrol car
and militants in black berets sip bitter dogs
and rap to Fanshen, Ho Chi Minh, Bakunin,
here, as the old Confucian proverb goes,
all men are brothers, at least for an afternoon.
Just this side of the treeless hills, a sinewy mimosa
stiffens in the breeze and bursts its feathery
aromatic seed upon a yard of oversized propellers.
From where we are now, it's easy to see how
the image of the vanguard of the revolution--
to be bad-assed, beautiful, and black in America--
has been quashed, though for a moment
in this other world, it seems that Huey is happy
and the children are thankful for the visit.

Three Pike Street

End of century, February thaw, horse stalls of a Delancey cul-de-sac
on Sunday afternoon. This sub-floor crawlspace leads straight
to salt-flat estuaries of Brighton Beach, to the world
my littlest brother, who lives for haggis and blood-pudding,
shares with me. We shovel potash and horse shit days,
stocking root cellars moonlit nights: green onions, fat cabbage,
bean sprouts, springes and woodcocks. Suddenly there's
wind-up clocks in every Scots-Irish home but ours.
We pay out sod with lime and nickel: below an opium den,
our porker Rose is burnished gold. She snuffles lemon peel
and deviled egg, nests in the lath and cotton batting
below a brand-new Bilco door. She grubs for sand ants,
half a brain of broccoli, tubers and tulip roots,
an honorary member of our race--one that proscribes
the ascent of man. Take note of a cheap-pearled parasol
left by a landlord, and the metastasizing wad of fucking rat.
Here the mind's at home, below a frozen terracotta,
below the quare gunk surface of a dream, a politics of greed,
just as vegetarians march up Orchard Street, with a giant gherkin
in a spokey pram. The sham's that anything at all has changed:
Rose grunts and pees in sawdust, turns to her curds and whey.