Day in the burning city, the grass
as crisp as twigs, the scorched leaves
spiral down from the dying trees.
Our hungry lives the engine of distress.
The blood has no discipline, only want,
only sugar and electricity. And we fall.
We try to be good. We try to love, we try
not to drive the engine further, but
we do. Oh children, we do.
Small boats on the hot sea wander, but we
have nowhere else to go,
only this land we are burning, only
this place without innocence, my body too
caught in the project, the complex machines of desire.
My city, my own, beloved, murderous.
All the years now I have watched the anxious creatures.
But somewhere a lake or a river. Somewhere mint, the stubborn violet.
The children bend their bodies to the wire and the swing,
spiral around the ladders, joy
of the arching spine, constraint, the moment’s flight.
And their hands bring pastries and coffee, small, ideal.
A restless stylite, I cup my own hands around longing
as if this would save us
and scatter my tiny gifts in the way of the sun.
We shall burn together, the children and I.
Or perhaps I shall turn my hand to the swings,
step into the air again,
shall float in harlequin space, turning,
till the sun is healed and the animals lie down.
Beauty moves in the darkness,
cool and silent,
a wind above water.
Maggie Helwig is the author of twelve books of poetry and fiction, including Girls Fall Down (Coach House Press) and One Building in the Earth: New and Selected Poems (ECW Press). She has worked as an international human rights advocate, and is currently serving as assistant curate at the Church of St Timothy, North Toronto.