La Guerra Civil

Duelo A Garrotazos
—Francisco de Goya, Museo del Prado, Madrid

By Sofía M. Starnes


They look over their shoulder, eyes set on the exhibit
overhead; it’s wringing out their heaven.

We live off wounds, don’t we?
How will our world sustain us—

Today, half their body’s buried in the earth,
as Goya’s giants, whose clubs rained thorn and destiny

on their heads,
whose knees were water-logged as cypress knees,

and swampy.
A townline hampered the horizon: twilight eaves, thistle,

and the invisible spire;
while duelers dueled, sunsetting all at once.

Where is their beauty now, this close, calf-high
in mud, the assailed head slumped

against the assailant’s shoulder?
Whose idols grace the land with midnight losses?

Life clings to their sash-cloths, whips and hunches mortals
into one—

Half a body understands the meet, baffles
the blow yet takes it; half splices the incoming

wind, shivers fate out of a riddle.
Hour on hour, the moon soaks the weaponing wood.


Come, see the Duelo again: this time, the storm’s
ajar, one elbow high against the blue, arms flung

in double-ecstasy transfixed—and at the tips, garrotes.
No children can deny it: split-oaks of a late

revenue’s offense, shades marring the moss equally, and
their father’s panic at having outgrown

the house—
gigantic loss, gigantic love, into the ultimate—

Livid in our heartache
is their blood, their fever is familiar as a bull-run and

hot black coffee and anís,
and the need to be this drastic halfway through a life.

Half-lit, the sunny roofs we build,
the roofs we nail, roofs now coping only with pink

flowering walls
from where our homeplot measures.

Mercy, O Lord, on us;
mercy on these children you carefully toweled,
certain we were muddied and would again
muddy our limbs, leveling.

Mercy on the waste caking our heels—
You flake it, because dirt before death is unseemly,
because it counts only
how cleanly out of, into your house, we come.