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Martin Burke


A Statue of Palas Athene

From base to crest twenty centimeters high, a spear as tall as she is
in her left hand & in her right a stylized smaller version of herself
as messenger of grace & inspiration: this bronze statute of Palas Athene-
a concession to history & the tourist trade
or a knowing wink towards mythology & divinity? Here on my desk
what does she represent & nod towards but my unspoken wish
for her intervention on the page. Thus I acknowledge her divinity
& make no concession about it. I am charmed by the shape
& find its accurate style a welcome relief from the coldness of the rational
which would explain her away without ever knowing her. Thus she
maintains herself, souvenir from Greece, bought on a moment's spur
yet responded to & allotted a place in the mind which calls on her again
or at least on what she represents; essential now in this year of fire
& terror's reign & the outstretched hand smitten by what should be the
hand-clasp of a brother. Will Iraq fall? Will Shatila be atoned? Will the hungry
be given a voice & hearing ear? What role does the statue play here?
What is its force & what of my belief? For I must more than nod at history
& by grace & inspiration show a voice in response, playing its part,
taking its stance, insisting on that unfashionable peace I believe in.
Therefore her presence here is neither random nor unrelated to the issues
I confront. Come to us (I want to cry) as once you did to a fatherless son
& offer your sustaining grace. But it is representational. Lifeless bronze
with a greening sheen, a concession to the tourist trade, in spite of which
& so much more, vital to the moment & need in this highly fractioned time
for which we need that healing grace she graces my desk with as silent witness
whom I impose or extract these virtues from (depending on how you view this)-
you who may read what I've drafted here in my name & in yours.




& so to see in the everyday
those revelations which illumine the world
& give our lives their brightness.
I say this & think of those images which rise
from the mind to the mind
in which you are wife & mother & friend
& which one will I choose
to represent the others by?
Perhaps no single one but a composite
carrying the underlying text
here is the world of a woman.


There should surely be a music for this
not as background you understand
but a theme upon which
the notes are sung to illuminate the whole.
Then choose what that might be, sing it again,
let me join you in this for the chorus.


I'm selective here,
this is my right, this is my need;
rather these affirmations
than a portrait of you with the cancer
which has infected you
& burdens us both with its claims.
No, I'll not sing a plaintive song
nor will I choose a low keyed theme
as it unleashes a ravishment
not unlike my kisses in the morning.


& here is a sustaining note
of an image I hold onto for dear life
as if music could be transposed to the eye:
you at the kitchen with vegetables
neatly proportioned for a sauce,
your manner that of an expert
casual about what must be done
& doing it to perfection.
& the note does not stop
nor the image fade
no matter how often you sing it.


These are my repetitions
these are the words I sing again & again
as if in that lay a healing force
as if in its theme you neither age nor waste.


When you sat on the rocks
at Cape Gris Nez
you were sleek in the sunshine,
a creature more of water than of air,
a seal-woman come to inhabit
the world of my admiration
yet not out of your element
as if you were equal to two worlds
as you now must be
in this distorted world of age & waste.


There is a healing says the Tao
in the meeting of water and air;
everything that lives is holy, said Will Blake
thus everything holy lives;
therefore let me articulate the wish
that in the sacredness of the everyday
& in the meeting of water and air
you may be washed & healed.



When the Swallows Came

Last night the swallows came—
two's and seven's followed by the flock,
such an activity of wing and flight movement
I could not choose which one to follow
and so tried to hold the totality
for memory to outlast the exacting moment it took shape in.
And it was beautiful:
the wheeling birds, the clarity of sky
they reshaped themselves against and in,
caused a soft noise which the air received,
held for a fraction, then released, the birds continuing.
You would have loved it.
Would have seen, as I saw, how this defined where I live
and answered the one, who of all the meaningless questions,
asked: "What is your nation?"
and thereby missed the matter of allegiance.
For I love this clarity and light
expressive not of time and local ground
but of the placeless in the place which, timeless, governs all.
And if I must choose a specific site then wherever I choose
will always echo my absence from 'Akka-
so what matter then my nation?
For there was (and this is something you will understand)
a suggestion of mythologies,
a prompting towards the old and constant associations,
the assured assertions of a soul in a soul's migration,
so that even when the shadows came
they continued to exist more real than the darkness
into which they were seemingly taken.
It was pure illustration breaking the eye's
one dimensional mode; a signature of visible forms
inherent in the greening ground and, in itself,
pure delight to follow.
So I sat there an hour in the otherness of it all
reluctant to leave even when the left and the evening grew chill
finding I could decipher our state and its times
by that moment when the swallows came


Martin Burke is Irish but has lived in Belgium for over twenty years. His work has appeared in World Order, Analysands, The Lilliput Review, Drunken Boat, Snakeskin, Poetry about Poetry, Other Poetry, Transference, Arts Dialogue, Virtual Writer, and others. This year he has published two books: The Other Life and The Weave That Binds Us.
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