The General: a new poem by Steven O'Brien


    The General

    Somewhat after Ray Bradbury

    As the muezzin’s dusk call
    Sews the day to a new night
    The general looks up from his maps.

    His damp camouflage
    Hangs on his back
    Like tired tiger skin
    And his diligence stutters,
    Along his tapping finger.

    Below him the city’s roofs crumble-
    Like broken seals
    In the spoil of forced tombs.

    He cannot decipher this tablet rubble-
    The hoarse pedlars
    And cloistered women.
    Boys with the eyes of girls.
    Birth and ancient dusts.

    At dawn
    A staring burn holds the land.
    His soldiers stake their checkpoints
    Like nailing a white sheet
    Across bazaars and alleys.

    But just as surely
    New blasts rend the pressed cloth.
    And each frantic cortege bolts blood
    In fresh scrolls-
    An angry psalm
    Scrawled across a shroud.

    Time was he held such a surety of cordon,
    Of staff college logic. The grand scheme.
    Pacify, break and build.

    Yet this city piled on cities,
    He knows it will outstare him.
    The courtesies and parleys,
    The gutter killings.
    Already he feels his bones shifted.

    Far from home
    He has been dipped in flame.

    The Adhan-
    Is one last cry of lazuli inlay
    Across the rusty sunset.

    The general,
    Dark now and very golden eyed
    Is hastened to his window.

    As a green star rises
    His chart turns to salt-
    A white sift draining through his hand.

    Taken from the collection Scrying Stone by Steven O’Brien, published by Greenwich Exchange.