Brian Culhane

Armorial and The World is Burning
August 19, 2020 Culhane Brian

At least once or twice a season I take out
That hunk of metal
And hang it from a hook in the corner,
Its sword arm raised, visor clamped shut,
A mace dangling,
As draughts whistle through elbow joints,
The whole swaying slowly
Like a pendulum,
The body surprisingly childlike,
Its limbs puny, the mace
No bigger than a dandelion,
The feet encased in dark metal
Barely touching the ground,
Toe-tips grating on the slate floor
(The sound of a drawbridge lowered
Over a frozen moat), the cloak
Clasped at the neck by a single thread of blood,
A figure from the distant past,
Armorial, its shield
Of the thinnest tin, its blade
Nicked and rusted over, the hilt
A broken cross,
While through eye-slits a glaucous gaze
Surveys the room
Without a flicker of surprise
Or interest, though when I haul
The whole stinking carcass down again
To put away for another season,
I sometimes hear a gurgled name
From underneath the dented breastplate,
As the frailest of iron fingers find my own.


The world is burning, and I stoop for dry tinder.
There’s a forest here at the edge of seeing. Flames,
Smoke, black and twisting, at the edge of sight.
The world burns as I stoop down, seeking leaf litter,
Twigs, cardboard, pine cones. Rivulets of hot blood
Crisscross the meadow to where I take up my task.
I stop to look up, scrying the sun’s black mirror.
Truly, heat is making the cumulus already crumble.
If winds from the interior have begun to suck air
From lungs, I’ll wordlessly stay on. Where to turn?
The fleeing caravans of history best left to textbooks
Smoldering in the heart of the marble scriptorium.
From the edge of sight, I can’t make out tomorrow,
But I have every right to imagine it existing today
On calendars that darkling curl, crisping in heat.
The world is burning, and I go on stooping for tinder,
Anything that can feed flame, just something to toss.
Rumors come back, the muttered names of cities:
Ships, towers, domes, theaters, temples—ash, ash.
Sorrow for all our worldly plans gone up in smoke;
For polar bears fur aflame as the floes are melting;
For those gatherers like me who, at the edge of sight,
Reach with our gloved hands, while heat waves
Smite the very stone. Before we burn, we are tinder.

Brian Culhane’s poetry has appeared widely in such journals as Blackbird, The Cincinnati ReviewThe Hudson Review, and The Paris Review. Awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson Prize, his first book, The King’s Question, was published by Graywolf Press. He’s received fellowships from Washington State’s Artist Trust, MacDowell, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His second collection, Remembering Lethe, was published by Able Muse Press in 2021 and reviewed by Chelsea Wagenaar in Issue 127  of Plume.