As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep
 
the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel
 
like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.
 
His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.
 
The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat
 
that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.
 
Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?
 
And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face
 
in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,
 
but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,
 
hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed
 
on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

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