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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to

This poem is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Three Poems Maryann Corbett

When I haul my carcass up from my creaking knees
to mumble the old form
(stubbing my tongue on the brick of a new translation)

humble me, Lord, to accept the awkward history
of these your mysteries,
a plotline tangled as the morning news,

a bitterness in the mouth. First, Constantine,
pig-headed in the face of disagreement,
yelling ‘Impious fool!’

And Athanasius, wily, on the run,
a glamorous bandit, sending in his thugs
to rile up orthodox riot.

Councils, anathemas, excommunications,
exiles. Seventy years of holy terror,
the violent bearing it away:

a street mob in fourth-century Alexandria
wild with joy at the news
that the Emperor Constantius lay dead,

which left them free to haul out their Arian bishop
and bash him to bloody pulp
to proclaim the Son homoousios with the Father.

Yes, in the end they faded away, the Arians –
those pie-eyed optimists, certain
sheer, plodding will could make a man divine –

a lovely notion, dodgy-sounding now
with barbarian tribes at the border
and falling across the empire, shadows of doubt.


Attention! barks the voice out of the speaker
and once again Attention! and our fingers
peck-peck, close documents, log off devices,
grab coats, yank at the bags we schlep our lives in.
A threat has been reported in this building.

Who on this brilliant April day believes it?
Not the last hold-outs, sitting there, still squinting,
peering round-shouldered at the tasks before them.
The voice squawks orders, tinny, razor-edgy.
We file outdoors to our assigned locations.

Was there a warning at the Murrah building?
None. Only the rage of the explosion
monstrously heard at fifty-five miles distant.
That was an April day. The sun was shining,
the wounded building gaping in the daylight.
The children bleeding in the arms of firemen.

But not here, not today. Today, some foul-up –
a fault of wiring? burnt toast in the break room? –
has sprung us, laughing here among pink roses
and petals drifting from the flowering crab trees.

Something could happen, yes. We know things happen.
We have our work, our lives, for the time being.

A Diplomatic Post    

                     After du Bellay, sonnet 86 from Les Regrets

Walk gravely. Keep your brows heavy as lead.
Smile gravely. Fawn; be uber-courteous.
Weigh every word, and nod a sage’s head
Balancing No, my lord, with My lord, yes,

And throwing in a frequent Ah, just so!
Add At you service – makes you sound sincere.    
Expound at length (as if you had a clue)
About the outcome of the current war.

There’ll be a lot of hands you have to kiss.
You’ll sink a lot of non-existent wealth
Into Italian suits (yes, ‘when in Rome…’).

And the great thing about a post like this?
Finally, when your wardrobe, luck and health
All fail, they ship you skint and beardless home.

This poem is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
Further Reading: - Maryann Corbett More Poems by... (1)
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