The Shield of Achilles, by Kevin McGrath

There are two cities on earth 
Divided by time and kindness 
And at the centre of their field 
Is a king who sits in silence

About him move the reapers 
Drawing in the living grain 
Goodness or the void deceit 
That human life advances

On the edges of this world 
Just beyond the known blue rim 
Are mortal doubt and anxiety 
Glittering with so much disbelief

In one city there is despair 
Meaningless desolation 
Where sickles of severe abuse 
Cut and harvest emptiness

Sometimes moral predators 
Destroy us in the night
When ambushed by cruelty
We are wrecked by extreme contempt

In another city there is judgement 
Where a palpable soul is weighed 
And the words our tongues exchange 
Are assessed for generosity

Beyond the urban walls there is 
A worn green altar on a plain 
Where smoke is offered to the sky
And blood poured on the stones

There are the unwritten stars 
Calculating every hour
Few who walk this level world 
Observe their silence and precision

There are brides grooms and lovers 
Where the youthful go apart
To meet indelibly and completely 
Offering all they might possess

There are songs of the universe 
That recall for us a truth 
Words forsaken in our effort 
When we only pursue ourselves

There are small lakes and rivers 
Running down toward a coast 
And on the hills are quick hawks 
Who play upon a thin grey air

There are vineyards and groves 
And orchards where boys and girls 
Laugh among the grassy shadow 
Lightly clothed with future promise

Just like a dancing floor all this 
Was prepared without a single wound 
Perfectly beautiful and still 
Where years are made immobile

Although we see the movement 
Are impelled by human currency 
Yet nothing happens or can change 
In the eyes of this ardent king
Chieftain cup from Hagia Triada
“Chieftain cup” from Hagia Triada, 1550-1500 BCE, Heraklion, Archaeological Museum.

From Song of the Republic by Kevin McGrath (Houston, Texas: Saint Julian Press, 2020). Reprinted with the kind permission of the author.