A Time Of Turning Over Corpses

By Catt Kingsgrave


This is a time of turning over corpses,
Grim-grey, pallid, crow flecked across the greasy field.
This is a time of picking o'er remains -- alive by dint of being, perhaps,
Too stubborn to lay down.
Survival through denial, (a joke of which the raven never tires.)
This is a time of standards bright
Trod into mud too brackish to be wet with heaven's tears.
Vert, azure, sable, or, purpur, gules, argent; nothing, now, but fecund brown.
Stitched dragons, lions, unicorns made futile in the stinking gore -- no more
Proclaiming life from life upon this close-mown field.
A time of horses all the hue of dead, and armour worked in pointless, clever craft
Wrapping now the dead in safer grasp than e'er it did the living
(to the raven's clamouring ire.)
Of empty, breathless mouths that gape in pointed accusation
And hands cupped soft in fertile mud;
Lax and terrible and nothing like fists at all.
Why need they grip a sword or bow to lay me low today?
This is a time of visors prized open, of peering into clouded eyes, and asking;
Do I know you?
Did I meet your opal stare when it was clear and angry once?
Have I scars which shape your dry teeth in my soul,
And map in skin your spur-heeled, purple tread?
Have I flinches tuned to the pitch of your hollow throat,
An ear that dreams your voice in nervy waiting,
And callused places on my tongue to map my own restraining bite?
I know them all, I think, these war-relics,
And if this field might rather know corn-leaves' and poppies' whispering
To the sussurance of ghosts, how can I heed?
Too many lie here for me to bury them all, surely.
A row of cairns might serve to better mark the lessons here,
But I've hauled stones enough for the likes of them, I think.
Swords make for useless spades, nor shields and shattered lances pyre enough for all.
And so instead, I turn the dead men up to face the sky,
Crack open armoured graves and ask -- how came you to lie in this place?
I try and name each lifeless face, pour out -- perhaps -- a dram of grace
From some more generous mental space while mud fills up my shoes.
No saint, perhaps I hope to lay their haunting spirits down,
Forever to the raven's claim, to offer all that's left to worm and weed and weather's due,
And spare myself the further shock of cold, dead touches in the gloom,
Of ghost threats in an empty room,
And harm that never quite spells doom.
The raven, following in my wake takes note, and mocks their fixed stares,
And cackling, plucks a grudging memory free, then leaps aloft to fly.
And I wonder, as her black wings clap the sky;
Does she laugh at them the more, or me?