On the Tower of Babel – James W. Wood

Week 37/52

In Memoriam Thomas James Smith, 1936-2016

Still this land the lotus
devoured: still the frenzy
in our limbs. Some spirit
takes this rutted track –
a deer starts, bites a blade
of grass. Night recoils into dawn,
wave and cloud and water
scud across the beach. At the cusp
of quincux Libra zero, see
each season end in longing
for the axe. When rain bilges
around this Earth we sense
death: the last syllable
of any season, ruined fruit
swarming with rot-drunk wasps.
And you, my darling, with me
though I am dying like 
the wasps, the fruit, the deer
the rain, the world:
be near me, my love.
be near.

On the Tower of Babel

for Colin Wilcockson

We forded waters, repaired
seven-tiered temples and built 
golden ziggurats for our Prince. Now I witness this tower,
our greatest attempt on God. Its staircase
twists like honey through cloud and thunder
so we might know the face of our Lord. 
Let the dead
mock us in the winds that parch
this desert. Let them say we are but Jasmine leaves, 
fit only to flower then die: let them say our sweetness 
will not outlast us. I know our Maker
fears us, hiding behind the stars as we
slap tar in our hands, set burnt bricks down one 
on another. Each step draws us closer 
to perfection, a second annunciation
of our names in heaven: more clamour 
than any trumpet or angel. Man can do what he wants
with or without words: our rough hands, blown
by circumstance, spread terror in the empyrean. Some say 
God has tricked us but we are certain
in our science: our tower rises 
above mountain and cloud and as it looms higher, 
so grow our selves, our confidence.

Lightning cracks the sky. Confusion 
lashes us, chained to our labours: we missed
the clouds and thunder that massed above us, too pleased
to work for our own glory. Stunned bodies drop
from the galleries above me, crying out
in tongues I do not recognise. Someone shouts
but I cannot tell what words. Then a scream,
blood sludging down the circled, dirty steps
before me. Have we sinned? Were we wrong
to think this shaft could reach to God? Fathoms below,
insect forms scatter on the sand, mortar
and bricks crumble around me, and a second 
lightning strike invites chaos to begin 
its reign over us. I fall against earth,
the taste of mud and spit on my tongue. Too late 
I see we should have praised our Creator, safeguarded 
His creation. Instead we wrought war on Him and destruction 
on Nature, un-manned ourselves everywhere. Then the first
chord of an eternal cacophony  – masonry batters
my limbs and ribs, the structure collapses and earth rips open
under me. I feel invisible wires encircle me – 
Succubi hold weird challices, swords, swooping down
to slash at my flesh, the Devil breaks loose below the Earth,
and I fall down to ruin and perdition.

Follow James Wood on his website here

James Wood

James W. Wood’s poems have appeared in Ireland, the UK, US, Canada and Australia, including The Honest Ulsterman, The Galway Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, The South-West Review (US), The Boston Review (US), The Fiddlehead (Canada), and The Rochford Street Review (Australia). A 2018 recipient of the British Columbia Writer’s Award, he is author of six books of poetry published in the UK and a pseudonymous thriller selected for the 2011 Rome Film Festival. “Building a Kingdom: Selected Poems 1989-2019” will be published in September 2019 by the High Window Press (Leeds, UK).

About the contributor

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