Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

After Richard Peter’s photograph of “Gute”

Her shoulders slumped beneath their heavy cloak,
Large hands outspread despite a shattered thumb,
The lady Goodness stares out on the smoke
And ruin below, and stands, as always, dumb.
More planes already drone on the horizon,
Their bellies pregnant with the weight of ordnance,
And as she rests her ever restful eyes on
The ancient stone it crumbles to discordance.
Everyone waking this peculiar morning
Must stare in wonder at what’s been destroyed
And put on stony black in silent mourning
And, silent, ask what’s left to be enjoyed.
The shame of the adulterer, the drunk,
The gambler who steals from his boss’s till;
The shame in which the desperate are sunk
To give their flesh as prey to others’ will;
The shame of him who said the cause was just
And let that payload whistle down to earth
And level all once risen back to dust,
Would seem to silence all talk of new birth.
And here she stands, that sculpted Goodness, mute,
Incapable of speaking her own name,
As if all life were cut back to the root
And all that’s left were to assign the blame.
But in the silence of her weathered mind
And in some thousand other places, now,
Despite themselves, not to such wreckage blind,
The living wonder and start plotting how
They might rebuild what lies there and still burns.
They stare up from the shelter’s opened door
And see the clearness of the sky returns
As fine-ground bone sifts to the sun-struck floor.

James Matthew Wilson

Photo by Deutsche Fotothek via Creative Commons