Slowly Sounds the Bell

Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.
Now this bell tolling softly for another,
says to me, Thou must die.
Donne, Meditation XVII

By Dan Burt

A midnight ring from half a world away
Tolls my only brother’s sudden death.
Line dead, handset re-cradled, sleep returns;
I wake to find bedclothes scarcely messed.

We long were distant islands to each other –
I stood Esau to his Jacob as a boy,
My fields the sea, his tents the libraries –
DNA proved inadhesive, no gene
Sutured the rifts between us, and the news
Was less vexing than a tree fall in my garden.

We hope for more: a foetal element
Feeding fondness for our kin, a shared
Enzyme sealing first cousins best of friends,
From propinquity Gileadan balm:

But boyhood hatred, dumb decades apart,
Change blood to water, degauss genealogies:
Abel becomes Cain’s pathogen. A shrug
In the cell metastasizes through
Isolate null points of the tribe into
Skull paddies and black snow in June.

Religious tapestries woven from old deities
Cannot conceal trenches we dig between us:
Ancestral chemistry stands hooded on
The scaffold, testing trap and rope for all.

It is the face on the school run who mouths
“Hello”, a torso hunched on the next bar stool
Twice a week, a high school sweetheart back,
A man selling ceramics I collect
Dying of AIDS, whose curfews heave the clapper
Summoning tears, the shiver in the neck.

Dan Burt

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