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To Marcus Aurelius

150 words

Good night, Marcus. Blow out the light
and close your book. Where Ursa runs
the stars’ alarm now fills the night.
Heaven speaks to us in tongues,
a barbarian’s fear-stricken shriek
your Latin cannot understand.
Eternal terror, dark and bleak,
reigns over our frail mortal land.

You hear the babble of waterfalls.
Relentless elements will drown
your letters until the world’s four walls
collapse and then come tumbling down.
What can we do? Shake in the air,
blow in the ashes, stir the sky,
bite our nails, seek words, despair
for shadows like us left to die?

Marcus, forget your stoic poise.
Give me your hand beyond the dark.
May it tremble as the world toys,
blind, with each sense as on a harp.
Astronomy, the wisdom of grass,
the calculus of stars—deceive
us—and your greatness all too vast,
and, Marcus, my unguarded grief.

3-5 August 2017

after Zbigniew Herbert

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