The Procession to Calvary

Martin Burke

writings: poetry

November 2012

Once it begins it continues

And the river extends into possibilities both historical and speculative

Yet the procession might easily be a massacre where history is not a fixed

But a story you might tell yourself or anyone who'll stop to listen


Already everything has been said and nothing else need be but we
     are human and continue

Warding off consequence and death

Or trying to with a pronouncement we hope will be as vivid as those strokes 

Stretching (without effort) from incident to implication to consequence


But we are human and find not everything has been said as it might be in
          a better way

Or in a way to help us move beyond the massacre and troops massed
         about the village

Though there is no way to avoid what must be faced down

As if to prove, if only to ourselves, that we did not look the other way when
         we should have turned the other cheek


If he falls we fall but if he rises we are edified –

Or seeing him fall and wanting to rush forward even though we hesitate

As if everything has been said

Yet our speech must exonerate us and by a word step into the frame

And walk towards a future we wish were otherwise


Turmoil and serenity

The one expected, the other an imbalance –

But which is which?

A mother holding the child she will hold as a dead man

Where if she is pieta unto us what comfort is offered her?

Omit everything else –husband and soldiery are incidental and wise men
     are not wise

No more than we are who none the less are rendered new because
           serenity calms the turmoil

And holds it for our credulity


The splendor is isolated but like a cart-wheel rolls towards us

The future is happening though nothing appears to be happening

Yet there it is –somewhere between mother and child, between then and now

Between the splendors we see and the splendor we infer


And if soldiers are gathered what are they gathered for?

What prompts them from the future to the present towards the future they

It is there in pikes and swords, in their whisperings, in the way they
         look away

But in so doing betray their intentions


Thirty wars have preceded this and thirty more will follow

Thirty wars and thirty more where they gather to infer the splendor
          that might be a resolution

Of the cart-wheels and the rut-tracks and the mire


What happened then is happening now –a scene history needs to repeat

The essence of which is elusive but beguiling


Yet to fill the verdant pastures so is to have faith in the future

To say the school-yard outlasts the drill yard

That the leafless tree will green again

That where there is motion stillness will come


Yet look away if beauty offends you but hold your ground if it does not

Hold also the conviction that such as this endures

That history is more than blind-man's-buff, that the hoop a child passes
      playfully through

Will always hold enough of imagination's equilibrium to rightly reset the
      world to his requirements


And now bagpipes, like gourds of juice music is pumped from, are pumped

And impish fiddlers challenge for mastery of the air

And dancers claim the common ground of the child who'll soldier-march
     from play-ground to battle-ground

Without ever leaving this place

He will not leave and you will not leave for there is nowhere else to go

And that child wandering into the distance is wandering into his future


Perhaps it's decided, perhaps it's not, and perhaps that's not important

Only that he walks, only that he goes where his blood-pulse leads
       somewhere beyond the painting's frame

As the magnet towards which the iron-fillings of his mind and the compass-
        arrow of his heart are held

And impelling him


Nothing is required to enter history –you are here, you have entered

Then it's forwards or backwards for there's no standing still  

With desire or detachment or desire and detachment as the brothers and

Of what you are and hope to be


The lushness of the Ieper Road contrasts the Calvary path yet oddly
         complements it – 

Unless, that is, there is a correspondence (As Rilke would later delineate)

Between the leafy road and the sparse landscape that joins them

Not (only) as approximations but of that which is most human in ourselves

And one might be a preparation of consolation for the fact of the other


Everything has been said but we are human and seek an
         exonerating speech

Holding Oak and Willow and Alder like a transforming talisman to blot
       out the desolation


And the Oak's shadow falls across an uneven path of stones

Not because we would have it so but because from its root

Two beams were hacked upon which the crucified now hangs

Sagging towards death, towards the world, towards those waiting for
         something close to miracle

To correspond to their hope and make it vivid beyond dispute or denial


And though you stop for beauty you stop for sorrow

And even the lyric is elegy in it most human form

So if you stop for beauty you are also stopping for sorrow

Where Oak and Alder bend to time the Willow bows before


Splendid? Yes –but the dead are not splendid

And even if it seems some afterlife casts an explanatory light

There is still the horror, the unavoidable human pain, for this is not snow
          but sorrow

Many have died and others will die -

Dresses of predictable black, plumed horses and carriage

But the living are not consoled for grief is a birthright


And see, the dead arrive

To the chill room they come, are already nearing, their breath upon us

Arms outstretched in invitations to huddle under their shadow

A moment's brightness gone wayward, dissolving in snow upon the dark

Upon treeless hills, upon bog, river and gravestone

On the loneliness of blackened thorns

Onto which souls are falling to their last end



Not winter now

Not snow, not children in toboggans, nor ice on ponds, not shivering mites
         seeking shelter

Not a woman on a donkey with her basket

So who are these ones crowing the world?

They are ourselves –not always as we would have us be but they are
         ourselves -

Jousters and hooligans, drinkers, pilgrims, orphans, blind-men, tax-men
          and census takers

We are what we are and are his


The road that leads to the Ieper Road begins at my door where if I pause I do
       not stop

Or only do so to let the reapers pass before I rejoin the procession

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©2012 Martin Burke
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Martin Burke is a poet/playwright/actor living in Flanders (Belgium) from where he has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland and Belgium. His latest publications are: Quint – Orpheus Books 21 (Belgium); & Blake/London/Blake published by The Feral Press (New York). He can be contacted at:


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November 2012

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