The Historical Voice

The historical voice speaks when the fire’s done burning
at a distance that is far but not inconceivably far from here.
In its vowels the Atlas bear and the tiger go on living.
The handful of things it tells us have been said before

and will be again, but it knows you’re not the only person
left who failed to listen. Difficult words like shame,
fatigue and dishonour take shelter in its lexicon.
Nothing is dull but shines in its notice. It can fold time,

bringing two apparently unconnected matters together
in combinations meant to reconfigure your sense of scale,
a pin and a Pinwheel galaxy, a black hole and a feather.
It has no discoverable loyalties. Neither male nor female,

foreign or known, its accents come from anywhere
but here. The syntax it likes is clean, perhaps translated.
Rats and horses often appear, but metaphor is rarer
than the similes it finds to be more true, and underrated.

Knowing the worst, it speaks from that shadow. We,
it says, including itself, we are like this. What has occurred
cannot be hidden, perhaps not understood. It tends to be
more kindly than severe, less grave than good-humoured,

as if in exhausted agreement that we all now comprehend
the long half-life of cruelty; that love alone, however
prone it seems, can like a cockroach survive most ends.
It talks like this of love without incurring your disfavour.