War in a mechanical age makes an industry of copper,
leather, reappropriated bronze. It makes machines
whose metal eats more metal and spits it out and on
and on, and never enough, and always far too much.
Always the man who ravages your silver, your pewter,
half your nation’s bells, no matter their provenance
and glory, how they bound each town in times of crisis,
how they called from the market square to the farthest
reaches of their jurisdiction. They would not survive.
They would toll their own departure and thereby bring
villagers together, one last time, to pay homage and make
the necessary arrangements. Any wonder a Kaiser’s men
from villages such as these would pause a bit and marvel,
ordered to set aside their weakness for the old devotions,
dedications to the Virgin, cast in Latin, the gothic clutch
of lilies embossed to bless the year of our Lord 1749.
Doubtless the conscripted moaned against the burden
as they lowered the great angels of the towers on ropes
and laid them in the courtyard, an open graveyard of bells,
centenarians of the common who summoned generations
of poppies and bridal lace that blackened as they passed.
Whatever the hour, the bells were there. But in the year
that razed a thousand steeples, they stood no taller than children
on the verge of a terrible adventure, festooned in local
flowers, dolls, sentimental verses. In the parish of Kusel,
a deacon said, They will speak a different language in the future,
as, in turn, the churchyards of the valley did, a vernacular
made of names affixed to empty caskets, or ones with an arm
or leg, whatever they could find. And who alive can say
if they made an error now and then, if a mother wept over
the remains of some other soldier, someone who had no
mother, no bride. Who knows if the bells of a cathedral
to the north rang through the heart of a passing stranger,
and in the language of the silence after, he heard his own.
Bruce Bond is the author of thirty books including Plurality and the Poetics of Self (Palgrave), Words Written Against the Walls of the City (LSU), Scar (Etruscan), Behemoth (New Criterion Prize), The Calling (Parlor), and Patmos (Juniper Prize, UMass).