Poetry

Salonica

Paul Muldoon

That young woman’s body sprawled by the side of the road
looked as if it had been thrown clear
like a burden her car desperately needed to offload.
The car itself was pretty much a write-off,
a cairn of chrome and windshield glass
dating back to the Romans or, at least, the Romanovs.
As she flew through the air
her dress must have ridden halfway up her back,
leaving her buttocks bare.
Another driver had come to a stop
and was already on the phone
with the emergency services or the cops.
I very much doubt we’d have been of the slightest help
had we pulled over on our way to the airport
to give her—what?—a howdie-skelp.
In the days when we still welcomed someone into the world
we wouldn’t have thought it strange
that a collet be lightly knurled.
In the Archaeological Museum there’s at least one artifact
for which the use is no longer known.
We approach it, therefore, with a modicum of tact.
That young woman’s body sprawled by the side of the road
represented yet another episode
around which we would do our best to steer.
Another driver had come to a stop
and was picking his way over the predawn blacktop
to where she lay three-quarters prone.
I very much doubt we’d have been of the slightest help.
If the ambulance we’d meet could barely manage a yelp
anything we might have done would have been a falling short.
As she flew through the air
after her car had hit a pole she may have felt a pang of despair
to think her grasp on things had now gone slack.
The car itself was pretty much a write-off.
Be it a circlet for a coif
or a hoop through which a soul might pass
in the days when we still welcomed someone into the world,
or a ferrule from a javelin hurled
beyond our range,
in the Archaeological Museum there’s at least one artifact
from a past we simply cannot reenact.
It may be ivory. It may be deer-bone.
That young woman’s body sprawled by the side of the road
looked as if it had been thrown clear.
As she flew through the air
her skirt had ridden halfway up her back.
The car itself was pretty much a write-off,
a cairn of chrome and windshield glass.
Another driver had come to a stop
and was already on the phone
so I very much doubt we’d have been of the slightest help
had we pulled over on our way to the airport.
In the days when we still welcomed someone into the world
we wouldn’t have thought it strange
in the Archaeological Museum there’s at least one artifact
for which the use is no longer known.

Paul Muldoon has published thirteen collections of poetry, including Frolic and Detour. Among his awards are a Pulitzer Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He is the founding chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.
Originally published:
April 1, 2020

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