Guernica

Paul Mariani

Guernica

 

Like war itself, the painting will swallow you.

Eleven by twenty-five feet, a monster mosaic

made up of newsprint blacks, whites and grays.

Welcome to the new normal with the blitzkrieg.

 

Cubist that he was, Picasso rendered the news

in unreadable fragments to mark that April

afternoon in 1937—Monday and a market day—

in the first city to be targeted by bomber aircraft,

 

which killed some sixteen hundred, mostly women

and children, while the men were off fighting

on the frontlines. How the spattered images knife

the message home to unveil the insane face of war.

 

On the left, below the drunk-eyed Minotaur-like bull,

let your own eyes fix upon that two-thousand-year-on

Pieta, a mother’s head thrown back as she howls

the inconceivable loss of her dead baby. To the right

 

a gored horse, as in a bullfight all gone wrong,

the beast’s scream, silent as it seems, echoing

the mother’s cry. Then too the cries of three

other women, one wounded and dragging

 

her leg, one trapped inside a house as the flames

lick all about her. And another, a disembodied head

holding a lamp to keen the truth, unlike that electric

eye bulb that illuminates the Nada of it all.

 

At the base of the mural lies the mutilated body

of a soldier, eyes askew in death, one hand open

to whatever, the other still clenching a broken

sword, with a flower springing from it.

 

Note too the human skull somewhere in the mesh

of jumbled abstract screaming images, and the dove

midway between the bull and horse, perhaps a symbol

of the Holy Ghost, though it too cries out in anguish here.

 

Pilgrim, viewer, what shall we make of all of this?

German bombers over Poland two years later, then

England’s cities. Then Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima,

and on and on as the the broken scroll of history unfolds.

 

 

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Paul Mariani is the author of twenty books, including six biographies, most recently Wallace Stevens, eight volumes of poetry, most recently Ordinary Time, as well as The Mystery of It All and Thirty Days.