Persian Miniature

Tom Sleigh

Purple-backed, clambering
through prongs of grass
a beetle moves at ground level
where stripped
to his underwear, hands bound behind back,
rocks digging into knees, he kneels
in the ditch, cheek resting against damp clay
as if rain fell when bombs fell a day or two before.
Beard still freshly trimmed, he must have fallen
into enemy hands just this morning,
the perspective down the ditch receding prisoner
to prisoner shrinking smaller, smaller,
until all you can see is the faintest blur
of skin and hair.
Neck and shoulders taut from
the strain, musculature ridged up on either side
of his spine, the popping
vertebrae lead to his ear’s dark-shadowed hole:
when will the interrogations begin,
what spirit or demon
will slip inside his thoughts
nestled in his fragile skull?

Which turns one’s thoughts
to his captors, the presumed victors—
a young man, wearing thick
prescription lenses that make him look even
younger and harder to read, stands one foot
on the ground, the other lifted in mid-air
as if he climbed an invisible ladder rising
from an island of duffel bags and packs—
holding his A3-GS
switched to automatic fire, behind him
the mosaic dome rising to a thin gold spire,
in his oversized boots and desert camouflage
he seems dwarfed by his uniform,
a diminutive figure
balanced mid-rung that climbs
from stones of the ditch past a white flower
prickling and itching the prisoner’s chest,
ascending past
animals like jackals that can’t be far off,
to the many rents
in his own fabric of man
and so on up to spirits
corporeal and incorporeal to God whose bound
is nowhere and circumference everywhere:

the nowhere-everywhere of God the Leader
shadowed forth in the dictator’s
statue stiff on its plinth, marble hand held out
to bless, while behind him flames
fur the air as if the fire were mange,
the fire wall threatening to scorch
the statue raised above
the city balanced
on its ladder-rung of the invisible
reaching upward to graze the stars
in this “man-masse” of antipathies:
“. . . private and domesticke enemies within,
publicke and more hostile adversaries without . . .
So let me be nothing if within the compasse
of my selfe I doe not find the battel
of Lepanto, passion against reason,
reason against faith, faith against the Devill,
and my conscience against all.
There is another man within me that’s angry
with me, rebukes, commands and dastards me . . .”
A scraggly date palm ghosts upward
through greasy smoke
while fire shinnies up buildings
as it scurries roof
to roof, clearly limning
two towers’ crenellations,
orange flames darkening to purple
burning whatever’s there until it’s not,
that ladder burning downward to the ground.

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