Anthony Carelli


"The Crusades" is a selection from Carnations (Princeton University Press).

THE CRUSADES


And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
~Constantine Cavafy

In the plaza, tender with the light of candle lanterns,
       twelve Christians are murdered for their imaginations

of the wrong god… Please god, I think, speeding off
       beneath the city, may that be my last day of work,

but the seat I’m stuck to slumps me toward tomorrow.
       In the twilight of the tunnel I dream of this tomorrow;

it’s the one I always dream, the one I won’t describe,
       the fine day for which I want no measure… Likewise

in history a smoke line appears, bronze above the desert
       hung atop clay roofs. Likewise a second plume soon

bruises the wind. Two, now three black flags lean east—
       the British bombarding Alexandria. As I walk home

the trees explode. They buckle slabs of sidewalk,
       dark hands lifting blaze leaves up the brownstones

to the boxes of sky on Joralemon. I cannot say why
       all of a sudden this happiness. Could be all my work

with poetry, though I’m not a poet yet. Could be weariness
       —my every morning ride up the same swift chutes

rising bright in rectangular blues of empty windows,
       and knowing each evening I’ll retrace these shadows.

I’m hungry, which means our children are hungry,
       but there are no children; the streets are empty.

I realize nothing about this may sound like happiness.
       Still, as I stop with the trees and the city hums

with the distant rush of honey bees on expressways
       —and however dreadful or imagined it seems—

I believe the trees explode just the way it sounds.
       Their warmth on my face, I believe the grass-made

cracks in the streets burn too. What becomes of me
       when nothing terrible happens, and yet I see

a terrible beauty spiriting its embers to the awnings,
       blushing the very sky? With beauty Cavafy says

men sit expecting barbarians that never come through.
       He’s wrong. They rush this poem’s quiet plaza

as they rioted, merciless, in the poems of Cavafy
       whether he saw them or not. The trees explode.

And the mind sets off once more across the prairie
       between a dead bus hull and my building’s stoop,

where the lit debris falls, scentless as evening mists
       fall, cool, erasing faraway capitals. It’s that quick.