Malta — L’île de Beaux-Arts
On suffering — Maltese are rarely mistaken.
They rack-back out of wars and what it
Was to endure human form while others –
The parlour Generals and Aristocrats –
Ate, closed windows, or sat & went on served
As the lowly walked by. How farmers were prized.
Substituting work for work to come. Patient
For some new harvest or another child
Delivered by right hand of sister or aunt.
There must have been Fathers, mothers that needed
It not happen; anyway, who could fault
Them for thinking otherwise? There must have
Been children who held it better it didn’t
Happen for they too ached at edge
Of waking and the dark. One story I know is
Of a boy of nine keeping shade of limestone walls.
Ashamed to be perceived labouring in fields
While others walked their way to school
The same shadow youth weeps in hope
That those cosy others don’t see his tender core.
He — a witness to his own wasting away.
But chiefs never forget to tell of his revenge;
It’s the part I prefer: same silent boy becomes man
Then father to sixteen mouths — same man
By fifty — taught himself to read, write, speak
Four foreign tongues; it’s one story of being here.
Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St. John
Is an image I prefer, a Tableau vivant; in one silent
Incident, Salome holds the golden plate
That will catch the head, only — she didn’t know
It at the time — that, as the locals call him,
Il-Battista — gave the head in an ill-fated, inexpressibly
Passive act of calamity and revolution.
The head — no ordinary head — though soon to be falling
From body is no ordinary falling
Because Herodias and some anonymous other
– peering out from the right in the gloom –
Are wrong eyeing the butchery at hand.