poem by John Grey

January 31, 2011

Flashlights in hand,
down we go into the catacombs,
a nervous step or two behind the guide.

Basilica above, burial chamber below.
Under all this earth and stone,
hymn sinks slowly into dirge.

Strange how carcasses are
the new Eiffel Tower,
the macabre Louvre,
walls of skulls in slots
like a dissolute sculpture garden.

Gale digs into my palm
with tense fingers
Funerals we’ve attended
but always the numbers
favored the survivors.

We see the roots of our past here,
the crumbling cenotaphs of future.
With all this bone about,
we feel guilty
to be in our skins.

Our guide mixes up solemnity
with jokes that don’t translate
so well in English.
One moment, he intones deeply
like a monk.
Then he breaks the silence
with a boisterous guffaw.
If we were among the living,
his laugh would wake the dead

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