Battle Scene

Kelly Cherry Click to

kelly-cherryFormer Eudora Welty Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kelly Cherry is a prolific writer of poetry, essays and fiction. Her many books include Death and Transfiguration: Poems (LSU, 1997), The Life and Death of Poetry (LSU, 2013), The Woman Who [Stories] (Boson Books, 2010) and A Kind of Dream [linked stories] (2014). She received the Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry in 2012, and a new collection of poems, Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer, was recently released by LSU.

The blacksmith sun hammered the empty plain
Into a great gold plate: a mere mountain

Wouldn’t withstand that onslaught day in and out.
Bird droppings dropt on bright rock rang like cut

Glass, and a scorpion darted, like a tongue,
Back and forth, about to sting or having stung.

This was the scene of battle; on either side
Of the plain, in ranked rows, the soldiers tried

To clear their minds and concentrate on death –
Not their own but someone else’s valued breath

Brought back like loot. Their shields mirrored the sun,
The sun tipped the head of each javelin

With flame, and in pairs the first line mounted
Chariots drawn by creatures since hunted

To extinction. The reins the driver held
Were painstakingly worked from precious gold,

Silver and lapis lazuli, and where
He drove, his cohort hurled a lighted spear.

By the time the shadows lengthened, cooling
The land like streams of water and pooling

Into darkness, bodies lay everywhere
As if beaten back by the muscular air

Into a varnished age. The scholars dig
Their grave. The dead soldiers’ tactical rig

Spins around a painted wall in a frieze
And still spins, after centuries.