THE BURGHERS OF CALAIS
Rodin's burghers in the sun
are no less men than when
they stood in mud or snow.
Their faces are more fluid, sure.
Bronze glints off the foreheads.
One neck, exposed and bent,
glistens in the afternoon,
but changed? No, not at all,
not utterly, not the way
they changed in Calais.
Two look straight on, but down,
not willing anymore to meet
the little pity of passers-by.
One turns as if to speak against
his shoulder, maybe to the man
behind, who turns himself away.
His arms are dropped weights
that will not ever rise again.
His empty palms face out
the way a child's will
when he has nothing left
against the father's rage.
To his left, a fifth man throws
his right arm up as if to block
a blow, his left side staggers.
He sags above a key he holds,
too heavy for an earthly thing.
The last man bows his head into
both hands and, standing, starts
a fall that will not stop.
In Spring, the Burghers
lose their way no less
than fall, are almost warm
enough to loosen up.
They won't though, not now,
not when Rodin has stopped
them cold and left them there,
almost leaning on each other.
In winter, they don't put on
their overcoats, don't shiver
at the sky. Summer's always been
their season, when they shine.
They're set almost by chance. In Washington
we often take directions by their stance,
caught like them between Capitol and monument.
Two, almost beside each other, straighten
toward the north. To their east, there's one
who turns as if to make one final plea toward
what follows him. The southern figure looks
north and west. The one who's mostly lost
looks out in what is not a mock despair.
There's one of them who holds his head
in both hands and his eyes on the ground
which is only fixed as long as you look.
They stand there still. Look closer,
there's not a one of them but moves.
Like time, they stand there, like stone.
In the middle, a puddle forms, a
water glazed as they. Though we've
had sun all day, it lasts till dusk,
caught in that little place
at the dead center of the six
who remain the burghers of Calais
though a hundred years have passed
since they've been thrown together
and bid, Be still, Be still.
Martin Galvin has
published in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic,
Commonweal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Poetry,
and in the anthologies Poets Against the War (edited by Sam
Hamill, Nation Books, 2003) and DC Poets Against the War
(edited by Sarah Browning, Michele Elliott, and Danny Rose, Argonne
House, 2004). His book, Wild Card (WWPH, 1989), won the Columbia
Prize in 1989. He has also published two chapbooks, Making Beds
(Sedwick Press, 1989), and Appetites (Bogg Publications,
Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 2006.
To read more by this author:
Evolving City Issue