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Symphonic Expanse

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If you’d seen
the Gaillardots’ mullein in the Cedars of the Shouf;
if you’d seen the Aleppo dock, red with iron,
in Bcharre where the Adonis River’s said to run as red

with what was
thought his blood; if you’d seen the bearded oat in Burjein,
the rayed white horehound in Tripoli; or maybe
the milkwort in Ehden, as often I saw the strigose bellflower

and the cyclamen,
you might have been the more awed by a mallow-leaved
bindweed in Aley on your way to the brunnera in Baalbek.
The Mediterranean poppy in Nabatieh, Beirut mullein

in nearby Baabda,
connate Alexanders in Qadisha, fodder vetch in Zgharta,
white rocket in Sour, Gypsywort in Marjeyoun,
headed Ziziphora in Baakleen, bladder skullcap in Barouk.

The viscid catchfly,
ah, vying with bats at evening in Zahle—for these the earth
of continuous habitation since the Chalcolithic Age
salivates at dawn. But not a reed grows where no grave is.

In Sacandaga Valley,
two thousand bodies were trans-buried by the boneyard gang.
They ceded the pitted ground to the dentist gang,
whose jackhammers drilled the rock beneath.

Powder monkeys tamped
the holes with dynamite. The beaver-tooth gang’s axes
and cross-cut saws cleared the trees. Bush burners followed.
The fires burned for two years. The patience of dam builders

built a force
equal to the water: It flooded the ashes, the railroad station,
and a train, which I saw transposed in the steely swells,
or so it seemed. But iron turns a torrent red.

Source: Poetry (February 2011)

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

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Symphonic Expanse

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