Poetry: Two Poems

Ernest Hilbert

Liberty Leading the People

It is not palaces that burn, so much
As raw materials within, draperies,
Furniture, rugs, books, clothes, gilded clocks,

Sometimes, a plump viscount or once
Quick footman; but the palace itself, like
Castles and temples before it, remains

A charred chassis, to be weighed once again
With laughter and candles, food, computers,
And sports cars when times finally cool down.

“Ice Dwellers Watching the Invaders”

—oil painting, William Bradford, ca. 1870s

The ship is locked beneath frozen mountains.
It crunches by inches against white floes,
Its masts are bare cold poles of long-stripped tents,
Its silhouette a stalagmite, its rows

Of furled sails, half-mast, sagging like bellies
Over the black pedestal of the hull.
Five seals splash and plunge near the icy shore.
Tubes of blood and blubber, they oar

The arctic waters, float in the ship’s reflection
As it leans and groans on the frozen
Depths. In its dark hold are harpoons, clubs, a gun.
Snow that took the color of the late sun

Just as easily accepts its absence.
Nothing seems to happen. A polar bear
Is unconcerned with the peculiar presence.
No thing would dare challenge

The terrible essence of his deadly kingdom.
What could kill more easily? And what for?

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