29 May 2015

To the city

 by Rowan Williams

To the City

1. Bosphorus
Once there were chains between the towers
shackling the green-black forest walls across the water
locked in each other's mirror-gaze, chains to choke off
the galleys headed greedily for the tense city. Not now:
this is a motorway shining with oil, the lanes
jostling and humming with their relaxed freight,
birthdays and anniversaries and conference excursions
bouncing and rocking along the cleft so confidently
you could forget the swimmers dead in the green-black
depths, the ones who failed to breach the walls
on the far shore or break the mirror. And the day trips
swing round and land where they began. But in the unquiet
morning dazzle, the dolphins arch and plunge, unannounced,
bright needles pulling threads between air
and sea. They stitch their trails round the lethal cruisers,
the crates of oil and spinning blades, come without call
or cause, go without mercy. Out of the green-black vaults
the thread leaps, wavering in unquiet light,
to tow the boats out of their channels, craw
short to shore, face to face, swimmers to gulls and sailors.

2. Ayia Sofia
And that, the Greeks tell you, is the Conqueror's black handprint,
when he rode in over the ten-foot depth
of corpses; when he leaned over, pushing
the half-globe on its axis, swinging the arrow
towards a new, south-eastern pole. The bars of light
lie angled silently, rolling against the tilted bell:
a tongue's thread cut. The foliage of immense
words painted curling and waving, unmown
green verges of a scoured field, drifts across open mouths
and scratched eyes, the layered dead
under the flaring frozen seraphs. There are no hours
to strike, no consecrating whisper to be marked, where death
so rolls and stacks its fields. Handprints of soot
inside the burnt domes of skulls; the empty segment
on the sundial, where worlds have pulled apart
and shadows stand unmoved, the clock's hands
are nailed still, the bell cracks open to a sky
of frozen stars pointed in accusation,
flaring on spikes, burning for the uncountable names
harvested by conquerors for this or that revelation's sake.

3. Phanar; the Patriarch's Cantor
Anastas. Leaning back, lifting elbows, braced,
jaw out, he curls fingers and lips, to make
his brassy diaphragm a bowl where the round gale
swings on itself, brushed the metal to a shine. Fingers
unfold into the quieter pulsing of a sandy breeze;
the drone shifts with a grind, brows are wiped,
a tired eight-year-old begins to cry, is hugged,
scolded, bundled behind the screen. The wind
starts rising once again, the couriers pick up speed
and ride into the gaping caves, the lifting wind
scrapes sandy flanks against the bowl of lung, sinus,
damp and bone. What does it carry, the straining
weight searing his arms against the stall's wood?
The creak of stones shifting on the hill; forests falling; a body,
massive, limp, released from its ropes around the mast,
struck dumb? The windy grains ringing half-audibly,
bouncing around the bowl's rim? He lifts
his palms again; welcomes the rising, the stone,
the grain, the body, the little pestle
drawn round the bronze. Anastas. Lifted. 

From Rowan Williams, The Other Mountain, 2014.

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