West from the edge of the ascended mountain
I saw a restless abyss, where Gaza’s river
Fled shrieking back towards its eastern fountain.

So full of anguish how I would deliver
Myself from that dead city, where the very
Wind in its grates dissolving seemed to shiver

And groan in blasted homes, I’d fled unwary
Of where my steps might lead, believing all
Escape from that dread place some sanctuary!

Yet from remembrance I can never call
A fearfuler sight to mind than that devouring
Gulph where, newly in thought, my gazes fall:

Such icy vacancy and disempowering
Immensities of ash in the ruined towers’
Suspended shadows left my spirit cowering.

Advancing, since dawn’s blasts, alone for hours,
I’d scaled this wreck – and from its rubble’s pile
Saw, as a scout in desert peril scours

The land from Hebron’s mountains many a mile
And watches deep into its central valley
From every pass his enemy’s soldiers file

In hostile ranks beyond his strength to tally,
And all desired escapes beneath him tend
To scenes of death – how highway, street and alley

All in that wild abysm found their end;
Yet, past its darkness searching to discover
Some refuge, spied, beyond the outmost bend,

Raised like a cloud above the ash’s cover,
A stream-fed field and magic forest planted
With glowing spires of pines and cypress hover

Up from the hazardous ledge to which they slanted
In waving flights of many-shaded green
Hills whose keen radiance held my thoughts enchanted.

From that ascended height I saw them lean
To the pit’s edge in the dark air suspended
As tempting me to cross the stretch between…

But O from under me the heaped wrecks descended
Massive and steep into that distant chasm
So deep, fear turned me back where I’d ascended!

Till in that instant a reflexing spasm
Flinched up the clenching nerves around my spine
At latest glimpse alive of the phantasm

Threatening behind like the revenging swine
Sent down from Heaven’s fields to quench the ire
Of Artemis against Oenëus’ line.

This, not through shrubs, but twisted rust and wire
Revved up the slope its deadly bulk and, plated
With steel, from its bored snout huffed blasts of fire.

As, struggling in shock’s violent clutch, I waited
For the dammed floods of sense to break asunder
Its clenching ice, that rough beast desecrated

The houses changed to graves with aim to plunder
The land of its last life, and towards me still
Crashed up the rattling slope with spates of thunder.

I turned, of death now certain, but the hill
And stream and field which my lost soul contented
Recalled me to my senses and the will

To hazard the descent where yet-cemented
Spans of the broken rubble I’d been driven
To scale for vantage, to my steps presented

Some purchase, or its fallen roofs had given
Me footing on their rafters – through the wide
Gaps in whose ribs and broken hatches riven

By the collapsing tiles I dreamed that I’d
Soon caught the wandering cries of voices buried
Under the caves of shrapnel, trapped inside

The hollows of the wreck. – So, as I hurried
Down, skirting shards of jutting glass, and over
Demolished heaps of mosques and churches scurried,

From two thick slabs a buried woman drove her
Arm through the splintered fragments into sight,
With ashen wrist and bloodied hand clenched over

The widened fissure, glinting where a bright
Ring’s polished gem atop a band of graven
Gold on her middle finger brushed the light.

Plus, where the shattered-glass-and-plaster-paven
Unjointed surface of the perilous flood
Had rushed upon her, twisted strands of raven

And silver hair, like wintry grass through mud,
Pricked through… and soon ring, hand and hair had taken
Possession of my soul, though dust and blood

Then half-effaced them, and began to waken
Old memories, rising darkly in the brain,
Whose full remembrance dawning left me shaken.

Crossing some yards of blackened bricks to gain
The place, I tore from off her limbs whatever
Lay on them – reeling at each groan of pain

She gave as I worked on, in tones which ever
Grew less and less – till silence followed after,
Solemn and cold, which on the earth was never

Broken again. Casting a length of rafter
Aside, I saw those lovely features broken
So often in the past in lines of laughter,

Maimed now into a look which can’t be spoken,
Though in the coming instant I was blind
To it with tears, till dismal horror’d woken

Me from my mind’s distraction… From behind
I heard aghast while I was yet resolving
My grief, the beast fall on me – felt it grind

The heap of bricks to dust, and its revolving
Wheels strike against my plunging body – my
Feet, shins and knees in liquid flesh dissolving,

Squeezing the marrow from each shattered thigh; –
And I flew up beyond the strange, unlovely
Wreck of my spirit’s cradle, where the sky

Showed, on the edge of the bright field above me,
My parents side by side, with every other
Who had on Earth, or would in Heaven love me:

My sisters, neighbours, lovers, friends and brother,
As I approached the edge, were gathered near it
In gleaming ranks… and from their midst another

Rose – the companion to my dazzled spirit:
An angel lady, beautiful and bright.
Her eyes were like the sky when tempests clear it;

Her honeyed features shining as when night
Feels over either cheek, in air and ocean,
A silver blush at the sweet touch of light

Kindled from under… And with such emotion
She looked on my enamored soul ascending
As steeped my thoughts in the sublime devotion

Of mystic love, which, in her eyes transcending
All mortal grace and loveliness of vision,
Streamed into mine as, towards my spirit bending,

She caught me by the hand, and with decision
Led me on with her through the whispering throng;
Then, casting back her eyes, said: “No division

Will come again between our hearts to wrong
The oneness of eternal love enshrining
Our hopes in Heaven, though we’ve waited long.”

This said, with mine her tender fingers twining,
She looked into my face, and held me near; –
Her touch was magic fire; – and, half-divining

My thoughts, on seeing a small shade appear
In my soul’s eyes, dimming the restless glow
Of love reflecting hers, asked: “What’s to fear?”

I dropped my gaze, embarrassed by the show
Of pain, and said, between desires conflicted:
“Now what unspeakable fate waits those below?”

Then smiling she replied: “It is predicted
In Hira’s oracle, that from the wreck
Of the infernal horrors it’s inflicted

Upon our tribe, the ghosts of Amalek
Will rise in triple wrath from Hebron’s mountain
And of the crested serpent break the neck,
And stream to sea flow from its eastern fountain.”


Comments (2)

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  1. Michael Farrell says:


  2. Cathy Gunn says:

    Beautiful and deeply moving.

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