The City

My conscience wears a loincloth of camel hair.
His stomach, drumskin taut from hip to gaunt
Protruding ribs, bloats and ripples beneath
The harsh and swelling cry. Through busy streets
The press of unwashed bodies, mingling, shoving,
Sweating over their various sundry trades,
Commerce and compromise, muffle the voice, deaden
The shrill, piercing, long-accustomed cry:
“Repent!”

Within the academic towers
The scholars pause their insufficient trade
In formulations inadequate to truth
Or grace, to parse and analyze his words,
Extrapolate his childhood memories,
Apply the latest theories, check his sources,
Influences, background, syntax and every shade
Of meaning inherent beneath the truth he says,
Or does not say.

Poets hold easy commerce
With his “artistic vision.” His naked plea
Draws knowing professional courtesy, they nod and snap
Their fingers and murmur “Mmmmmm…”
“Yes!”
“Oh yeah!”
They clap him on the shoulder and call him, “Brother.
We too are misunderstood, we understand.”
But they will never believe. Belief requires
Relinquishment of doubt, acceptance of joy,
And joy and faith are just not “in” these days
And so they casually wear artistic angst,
Artfully draped across the shoulder and back,
At a jaunty angle like the capes of musketeers,
And neither believe, nor even understand.

Seers drown their visions in cups of tea
Brewed from scraps of re-constructed past
Steeped in self-pity, savoring the taste
Of stagnant pain, and swirl the bitter leaves.
They read the posthumous reviews of their own tales,
Of all the ways things could have turned out well
If the other guy had only heard the call
To repent.

Outside the city walls the farmland
Groans. Ignorant farmers work the earth
Producing grain, and grapes, and olive oil
For shipment to the City, there to furnish
Bread for the masses, and wine to cheer their hearts,
The necessary but insufficient cause
Of life. The workers live their lives
Such as they are, with a minimum of fuss
Taking in stride the semi-occasional raid
Upon the farms, by scaly, stupid beasts,
Monsters from the ancient outer wilds.
These things do happen.
While in the cosmopolitan,
Refined and cultured burg, the very name
“Barbarian,” or rumor of beasts, is enough to send
The citizens into orgies of delicious panic.

Meanwhile, the ground beneath our feet shakes,
Rumbling with inexorable, oncoming
Redemption like a hurricane beneath the earth.

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