For the ruination of Palmyra and after P B Shelley

His shroud was campion in May;
a king’s cape of crocus in November.
Curled olive roots held him in the afterlife
like the fingers of forgotten gods.
For two and a half millennia
blinking skies cycled over him –
until a contadino’s plough tipped his hat
and he was exhumed for wonder.

When we first met he was standing
bright and alone in a cold mausoleum,
arms across his sword and belly
as if shivering – plucked from his bed –
his shadow cast upon cream walls.

I’m not of this place, this cave
is not my necropolis – free me,
take me back to Picenum,
lay me under the stony soil
so I may hear again the soft
spiking of rain on the grass,
feel the bulbs questing in Spring,
hear my woodpeckers calling.

At dawn we drove in a hired Mercedes,
him gazing out at the new world
laid like a loose flag on the Abruzzi hills.
I recounted the Hellenic period,
the Romans, the Social Wars, The Empire,
Christ and the Popes, The Internecine wars,
the Twentieth Century. It took a while.

Could I have been king of all this – ‘King of
Kings’?

From the old stone town of Capestrano
we looked to the ruins of Rocca Calascio,
circled by jackdaws and hooded crows
A thousand years weather beaten
– and all of it startling and new to him.
Below us a tractor scratched the soil
beside a black hectare of solar panels.

See how the Greeks left, Rome fell?
Nothing has remained unchallenged
for as long as I ruled my dark grave,
humming quietly to the beat of the sun,
the business of earth worms.
Where am I safest? Below the loyal soil
rolling with the terremoti,
or standing bold in lime light
exposed to the motives of terror,
the certainty of political change:
invaders with their own gods,
who may not care for an old stone king?

But both of us knew everything had changed.
His necropolis scattered, his sleep broken.
We drove in silence to the Campo Imperatore
where the lone and level plain stretched far away
before turning back to the foothills.
I promised to bring him campion in May
and a regal fist of crocuses in November.

Ah, and when you’re gone, who’ll bring me
flowers then?