A Steady Light

Lee Harwood

Mid-afternoon   a light breeze
sways the worn blue curtain.

Could this be Alexandria?
– I think not –
but some provincial city? seaport?
And the year?

In a cluttered office, dust on the ledges,
the books in perfect order, the accounts all up to date,
the correspondence answered and filed.

Evening dreams   stories of emperors and patriarchs,
stories of moments when it could have been different
but wasn’t. Constantine XI Palaeologus,
the last emperor, falling in battle
at the fall of Constantinople, the end of Byzantium,
overwhelmed by the relentless force of Sultan Mehmet II.

Overwhelmed by years of broken promises and betrayals,
of petty ambitions and selfish blindness,
under those eggshell domes and rounded arches.
The glint of gold mosaics in dark corners.
A line of ikons where saints stare into another world.
Elaborate robes and rituals and attempts at clarity,
listing the laws in many volumes, the science and philosophy,
all copied, copied again, amended, copied again,
to keep the barbarians at bay whether Frankish or Turk or …
One thousand, one hundred and twenty three years of this.

A curtain stirs in the tired room
while the same breeze slowly shifts
the hangings in the nearby hospital.
Distant sounds from the streets below.

Get up from the couch or chair.
Walk across the room to stop by the window.
The air heavy with the heat of summer.

How true is your heart?
We all know the jackal waits for a spare feather.
And a choir sings
                    ‘People get ready for
                    the train to Jordan.’