The hope a mooncalf follows
is sacrifice for slaughter,
and yet the wings of swallows
still skip across the water. 

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Quasimodo

As he lies mid his retinue of rats,
oblivious to the trickling water
and the maelstrom in the babbling sewer,
one might think his nose a hovel for flies
in the low and oppressive August heat,
but gladly he sleeps the sleep of the just,
like a foetus double-crossed in the womb.

Who but the passing ethereal white clouds,
or the bent proprietress of a dive
in those drunken days before her passing,
ever noticed to care by whim or chance
how he resembled a pigeon walking
in the ocean of misery and mud
neighbouring the cathedral of the damned?

Or how he spit when he spoke over bowls
of steaming porridge in the good hospice
run by six eternally stoned eunuchs,
his words brilliant as moonshine through stained glass,
simple as the stars in their begging truth,
though none and all understood their meanings
by the soft intonations of his grunts?

And now for the umpteenth and final time
he lies high in a heap like a dunghill
waiting for the street-cleaners to clean him up,
the sun bursting through his shuttered eyelids,
his eardrums full of Gregorian chants,
while the rats scurry like flawed apostles
in the wake of flapping but broken wings…


1999
first appeared in Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper, September 2000

 
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© by Leo Yankevich
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