O empty house of the heart –
your windows aghast,
their charred frames, the glass blown in,
your slumped roof and hobbled chimneys –
what has happened here?
The ceilings are torched to the joists,
and all your gorgeous chandeliers
melted and annealed.
But who is this plaster figurine
sizing things up from the cinder path?
It must be the loss adjuster
with a briefcase full of the instruments of salvage.
And bending close, I can see
right through the blown egg of you,
to the grey and green
artist’s impression of elsewhere.
A drop swells on the lip of the tap
and falls like a word being said,
a quiet word
in a language as old as water itself.
I have not spoken for days.
It breaks in the basin
and runs away not quite to nothing before
the next drop gathers and speaks.
Eleven drops, eleven words,
with the film of silence between,
and I stand at the mirror
and wait the small intervals
the way I halted this morning
between the chimes of the clock
as I crossed the square in this tight-lipped town.
I stood struck, listening
for the bronze bell to tip
and swing on its yoke,
for the heavy muscle of the tongue
to flex and utter its word
which was always the same word
until it seemed there was only
one word in the language
and all we could do
and repeat –
this hour no different
from the hour just spent or squandered,
this day like every other
and this square undistinguished
with its brick facades, its awnings,
its dusty sycamores,
statue of a general or bureaucrat
no one remembers now,
and every moment leaning into the next:
the toll of the bell, the dripping tap,
the footsteps echoing and draining away,
leaving the square
glazed briefly with absence.