The newspaper photo on my kitchen table
shows ancient Aleppo blasted to rubble —
a rebel fighter of the Free Syrian army
has taken cover in the darkness of a tea shop,
a stage set for the bleakest of plays,
draped in shadows of black and grey,
fitfully lit by artillery fires from across the alley.
The chalk-white wall panels are dislodged,
stove pipe is bent, windows shattered,
the yellow radiator kicked into a corner.
On the small stove sits the kettle filled with dust;
on the counter a stack of bent metal plates
leans, beside three blue-glass tea mugs in a row,
emitting a note of radiant color.
The soldier’s back to us, he stands alone
in this temple of Armageddon,
slightly bowed, leaning his rifle arm
on the counter’s edge, pointing his gun
toward the unseen beyond the mangled blinds.
Too old for war, he trembles with exhaustion and hunger.
The dirty clothes hang on his frame, his shoes are half
buried in debris of plaster, metal and glass.
With his knitted hat pulled low on his head,
we can’t see his face, but his white beard, translucent,
startles: all the light in the shop is focused on it.
He seems to stand waiting outside of time,
perhaps for the assignment of his death,
Here in my kitchen, drenched in sun and the smell of baking,
Bach’s cantata 82, “Ich habe genug,” pours out—
old Simeon’s words in the Temple as he cradled
the longed-for infant Messiah.
“Behold the hope of all peoples,” he sings,
“in the warm embrace of my arms. Now if only
the Lord will free me from my body’s enslavement,
from this world of misery…”
“Death comes, takes power over us,
holds us captive in his kingdom. Here I am resigned
to misery…but if indeed my liberation comes soon,
with joy I will depart to peace and rest,
in the humus of the cool earth…within your Bosom.”
“My departure is at hand…I have enough now—it is enough.”
The phrases float on the air here as golden motes,
but there, in hell, as flakes of ash in the mouth
of another Simeon, waiting, who holds no hope in his arms—
who, also, has had enough.
Mary Lux in Milwaukee has poems in four anthologies, in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Calendars, and online. She tracks the news avidly in The Times, the local papers, investigative reports in The New Yorker and on PBS; wishes she could make more of a saving impact on the world with poetry.