Matches for Rosa
‘I want to give it to Rosa Luxemburg, who loved birds and flames.’
………………………………………………………………….– John Berger
These matches are a gift for Rosa –
I’ll send her a text first, so she will expect them
where she lives now, in a room
on the other side of water.
Even the dead can light a fire with the right tinder,
like these matryoshka matchboxes –
each one hiding a smaller lacquered case,
and a painted Russian songbird.
Perhaps each bird with its sloe-deep eyes,
its harlequin flashes of scarlet or gold
will be reborn as a phoenix in that other place;
where the dead live, sparks catch quicker,
and maybe in return for my gift,
this woman so in love with fire and flight
will send her blazing birds to my pyre.
In Bath Cathedral
O reader stay one moment with the dead –
our bones are mingling beneath your feet
and we are all alone.
Stay with us while our knuckles roll
amongst pence and relics, over curses
scratched on tin or silver to hex a neighbour
for a stolen blanket. All the company
we have now is Minerva’s stone head
that never suffered joy or entropy,
her brow smooth while all around us
hot spring water picks holes in bones.
Stay through days of rotting joists,
through bombs that make the air sing
with flying glass. Stay, though the nave
be scattered with broken saints;
stay and hear and remember –
our echoes chime around the world.
They sound through the breath of others,
in the unimagined deserts of the mind,
in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Palmyra.
Stay and hold vigil. The dead are all the same.
Search for them in the canopy,
among the meadow grasses,
you won’t spot them;
the thousands of bees
that unzip the air,
follow the day’s weft,
that rip the silence like cloth,
tug the tiny hairs on skin
with their ghost music –
bees long dead, bees soon to die,
as the ladder of evolution
reaches its vanishing point.
They hide here
among birdsfoot trefoil,
purple vetch, self-heal,
among hemlock and nightshade
and they wait,
these phantom bees,
between the pines.
They have nothing to fear
from me or you,
these numberless dead.