This poem is written in memory of Tom Leonard, 1948-2018, see here.
by Peter Clive
Everything lies in ruins. This Glasgow
is an ancient ruined city by the Euphrates
after some rival, or barbarian invasion,
or simply the passage of time has had its way,
gap sites where ziggurats once stood, shards
scattered across the brownfield yesteryear
whose damp tubercular breath
condenses on the back of my neck,
but this is the Clyde, not the Euphrates.
This shattered and scattered clay
whose pieces you pick up and hold
is not some Mesopotamian jigsaw
of the sort archaeologists like to solve.
These marks are not cuneiform pressed
upon the cold hard fragments in your hand
that you try to fit together and decipher.
It is you. It is your own living tongue
after it has been turned to stone,
and after the sledge hammer and wrecking ball
have had their way, and broken you,
and dumped all your words in a midden
and left you able to meet your mute self
only behind glass, in a glass case, in a museum,
reading how others have captioned you in labels:
their interpretations, educated guesswork,
accidental errors, deliberate falsehoods, lies,
in some nostalgia palace
where the passage of time is frozen
to hold the living captive,
saying, "this is how things were
so this is how they will always be.
This is all in the past. It cannot save you.
You are only what we say you are now."
The word "no" lies untranslated
on a cuneiform tablet out of reach, hidden
behind something lurid and embarrassing,
but there was a man who turned it back
and raised your words from bones and ash,
lifted them from this disintegrating clay,
breathing life into them with poetry,
restoring their voice and making them laugh,
and bulldozing museums with basic facts.
Though all that's left of any life, once gone,
is an unfinished jigsaw, its missing pieces
now forever lost, we'll fill the gaps
with pieces of our own rescued from obscurity
and the impertinence of casual oppression.