With a thunderous clatter of hooves & blare
of battered brassy horn
light cavalry swept down upon
doomed men in a crimson morn.
A ragged band was backed to a wall
of towering metamorphic rock
in a foreign land long leagues from home,
taut faces white with shock.
How terribly fast the tide had turned!
How cunning the savage foe!
A turncoat scout led them roundabout
into ambush. Treacherous woe!
For weeks the marauders pillaged, burned
raped & drunken-reveled
till their captain, sated by gold & blood
cried, “Wheel, ye desert devils!”
Laden with spoils the warband turned
back toward hearth & home
basking in martial glory built
’pon ashes & bleaching bones.
A fortnight later they braced for the charge
of juggernaut-horsed cruel men
slung low in the saddle, scything swords
reaping again & again
leather-clad warriors who smote & roared
in a frenzy of berserker fear;
the desperate band made a fierce last stand—
spears splintered, horses reared.
Wet work was done ’neath the pitiless sun
to a man the invaders died;
their corpses left to ripen & rot:
sweetmeats for the vulture sky
that dispatched carrion birds to feast
on the bloating, rictused dead.
Black buzzing hordes of feted flies
swarmed ’round severed heads
& limbs that littered the killing field
soon buried by drifting sand.
What matter the names of the men who fell
in that vanished, sun-seared land?
The victors that day soon found their homes
destroyed by a stronger foe
who invaded the land, bronze legions agleam
in scarlet, azure & gold.
Thus ever it was; thus ever shall be:
man butchers man for wealth
lost in turn to cyclic hordes
worshipping power, brute force, pelf.
If today you stroll under cloudless skies
face turned to the warming sun,
spare a moment to think of countless dead
who died that you may hum
some insipid tune of patriarchy—
family, church & state
sing the tribal song of triumph:
Noble! Manifest! Great!
–Carl E. Reed
This poem employs galloping rhythm, a judicious use of near-rhyme, abandon-rhyme (note the long “O” of “foe” and “gold” in stanza 9: an example of what I mean when I argue for the primacy of semantics–at certain critical points of an otherwise sonorously harmonized formalist narrative poem–over the mere aural, or sound, consistency of end-line rhyme), internal rhyme (rhymes on the same line), alliteration, assonance, consonance, the lack of end-line punctuation except where necessary to aid comprehension and regulate rhythm (a minimalist choice which also enhances reading speed and a sense of exhilarating forward momentum) and other poetic tricks to enhance euphony and over-all impact upon the reader. I hope the work imparts the same shock of lexical energy I felt in composing it; moreover, I hope these particular words arrayed in this particular fashion speak to the reader in a meaningful and authoritative way re: our collective guilt and responsibility for continuing to engage in the transfixing, tragic and (uneasily acknowledged) ecstatic social practice of war.
The formatting of this poem (if ever published) will follow the traditional formalist practice of indenting the 2nd and 4th lines of every quatrain. (Try accomplishing that in WordPress. ARRRGH!)
PS. Mellow: start sharpening that critical knife, heh!
PPS. I am pleased to announce that three new poems of mine will appear in issue #15 (July, 2021) of Spectral Realms Journal: “The Call of Lizzie”, “Shuffling Horror”, and “Bat-winged Battle Cry”. https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-15?zenid=qqgjdp8a4gt5fgkuuinkcr7vm0