Lament of the Leper King
–Now no clock exists that might want to give me time
to run away from death.–Rafael Alberti
They came from the west without provocation,
tore the sun from the sky and buried it under
our numberless dead. Then they said to me:
“Take your bell and rotting flesh and tell all
who grieve we have anointed you king of this land.
Tell them this land is diseased and your bell
will toll until we have cleansed its soul.
Only then will the sun shine without shame.”
Now I wander through my kingdom of grief
looking for that place where they buried the sun,
my only companion the black whisper of death.
Listen to those dogs, starved mad and howling,
racing across those once great estates,
their eyes flashing like the sun’s last moments,
their nostrils flared with the fresh scent of death
that twists their empty guts with hunger and rage.
Do you see that weary old Jew sitting among
the smoldering ruins of his village?
See his ashen face harden to stone, his red beard
quivering like flames, as he hears the whisper
yet again: “Go you, out of the land and out
of your homeland and out of your father’s house.”
See him rise from the ruins around him,
look to the west, to the east, to the sky and shrug.
Do you remember those first days of spring
when the last snow wept in the shadows and wisps
of frost rose like ghosts under the blossoming trees?
Your voice was new again and you talked of the future
as if you would live long into the gift of years
and die old and satisfied in your sleep. Now
my bell tolls through this sunless season of grief.
The future whispers in a swirl of dead leaves.
This poem is a response to the series of etchings “Misery and War”, particularly “Winter, Leper of the Earth”, by George Rouault and the painting “The Red Jew” by Marc Chagall.
Doug Stone lives in Albany, Oregon. He has written two poetry collections, The Season of Distress and Clarity and The Moon’s Soul Shimmering on the Water.