Elegy for a Place

Elegy for a Place

The things undid
in the land of undone call to us
in the flames.


-Lee Upton, Undid in the Land of Undone

Late morning, on the first of May –
when the cherry trees on Petrin Hill first bloom’d,
when the statue of Man shed his shackles and was whole again,

there proceeded a troupe of mourners from the Castle,
who climbed the steps to Petrin
and held a funeral atop its crest.

Among the pink petals they gathered,
a holding pattern of reticent misnomers,
and held a funeral, a funeral for what never was.

And somewhere in the crosshairs of modesty and grandeur stood he,
The Speaker for the Dead, who whistled and choked
and spoke of all things bitter.

Of pencil-points perpetually snapped,
of tram doors opening and closing, opening and closing,
of a red that followed everywhere; a vulture lapping at light glances of confusion.
Of anger, of frustration, of melancholic misunderstanding.

And he spoke of her as if she still lived,
she whose Ecklebergian eyes burned holes through lecture halls, etched novels on the back of bleeding knuckles;

she whose dreams buried civilizations in layers of vermillion dust and carried the cries of newborn babes outward and upward, whose dreams painted the hazy Czech stars of the present onto the privileged past and what is yet to come, whose dreams plucked out strands of intimacy from text messages and made them pulse again and gain,
defibrillated by the divine;

She whose mind snapped and roared and woke under the soft arch of Capek’s grave in Vysherad, whose fingerprints and footsteps traced the cafes of Zizkov, the empty windows of Smichov, the plains of Letna;

she whose very existence waxed and waned as if held to reality only by some sort of Ginsburg’s list tucked inside her red Goyard bag.

And at the funeral for what never was,
all the mourners stood in silence, listening to the impudent words of the
Speaker for the Dead, who spoke only for himself.

Who was proud and bold and above all else bitter,
and bitter and bold and sure that it was he, only he,
who had known her, known of her, could speak of her.

For she was but a canvas upon which his paws tread.
In the long art of lingering,
there was only her and him.

For she was but an empty page, a half-crossed glare,
a rainstorm, a moon-shower, a wall of scribbled on sticky notes,
a lamp-switch unflicked, a twice-forgotten train station a…

Enough! At the funeral for what never was she ceased to belong to him
and the Speaker for the Dead could see her only in snapshots,
in any-spaces-whatever.

So in rebellious silence the mourners remembered the sweetness too,
of days spent lost, wandering down tapered streets,
and through scrimshawed stories (no taking those back).

The mourners wrote epitaphs for German rollercoasters and
remembered rum bars and cigarette smoke and the music (oh the music!).
And the Speaker fumed and made sibilant sounds; these were the things he
had sought to forget.

And in unhinged whispers the mourners remembered
all that was good and sweet and kind,
they cursed the Speaker and his vermicelli eyes.

So they cast him out, false prophet of pain,
petty salesman of jasmine and bitter honey,
collector of stopped wristwatches, enabler of the defunct past.

And as the Speaker for the Not-So-Dead flees Petrin Hill,
the mourners chant this after him:
In sweetness and bitterness,
in systole and diastole,
in ecstasy and sorrow of Love,
Throb, Heart, throb!

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