Winter, 2003

Erica Wagner

Three Poems


An unbeliever at the tomb of Frau Langhans, Hindelbank, Switzerland 

The tomb is cracked, burst, 
not wide, only wide enough 
to let the light back in. 
Her cold carved eyes are wide 
and her shoulder curves inward, 
fearful, as if she had got used 
to the stone-damp dark, 
the new long journey, as if 
she had decided it was easier, 
quieter here, no longer to bend 
over a hot copper tub 
or quickly to dry her hands to greet 
Frau Lustig, Frau Edelmann, 
raven-black and bone-white 
at her door, their bold eyes 
on the pastor's new wife. 
She cannot remember suffering; 
she cannot envision grief. 
And yet see her hand: 
clutched tight round that fat, 
eager arm: he has no qualm. 
Her boy brought her with him once: 
he is determined to do it again. 
He lifts his little head beyond 
the broken stone lip, 
beyond the rim that marked 
the end and the beginning, too. 
His other hand has already escaped: 
one inch further and he will see 
the star, the skull, 
worked into the stone's surface, 
praise and admonition, 
banishment and blame. 

You could stand here for hours 
in a churchyard in the back of beyond,        
the wind under your collar, 
the cold in the soles of your shoes, 
waiting for the stone to warm and change, 
for the dead pair to allow you 
this grace. 

The transformations at the crossroads
"Hold me tight and fear not" 

and then all gold,
over mouth, eyes, nose

a dream of desert,
of distant plain,
the sun trapped at noon
(while all around the moonlight
was in flood) 

bloodflow butting
vein on vein
bare knees digging
where rib slid under skin 

green gown dragged away
drenched as moss
the smell of old meat
the stink of the grave


on the sea's
shimmering skin
light diamonds
crawling to land 

all belly
all back
cold coils
thick as a throat
binding in one
in two
in three

no breath
no breast
no bone

a cut-stone head
a black eye
opens its embrace


the snake's back
snaps straight 

the sun is rising
but the earth's face
still hides from the light
and the sky
is a swirl of pitch 

the flare blazes
between finger bones
through flesh
so that blood moves
 like molten iron
and a roar of heat
blurs the world
burns away what is
not held
between these arms
what is not now
not then
not what is yet
to be


the moon in a cloud
on damp grass
wild garlic
the sea sighs
its secrets sink
into the deep

white skin
stretched over
muscle and bone
a grey gaze
the heat of two hands
hidden here 

silence rains down
from the stars

The heroes in the north

Afterwards the Attic light
washes out through the opened doors
like the suitors' blood
poured from the Ithacan hall.
One bronze helmet,
a parking meter, a mobile phone.
Through a break in blown cloud
some god could come here too,
where the high rocks
turn their backs to the sea.
               -- for Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden