By Alfred Corn
I try and try not to think about the Wall.
Its profile, massive height and roughcut stonework
All stir up fear, gloom, exaltation, pride,
And numbness, in a jumble hard to name.
No one knows who had it built, or when;
Five hundred years ago, the locals guess;
But sunset trumpet calls depict it gold
Enough to have been there more than a thousand.
The thing held off invasions, true—but not
Always, our history records defeats.
Nowadays we never get invaders,
Or else they’re us, going beyond its limits
To acquire new territory and subjects.
Though weaker stretches have sheared off and fallen,
Herders fence up their sheepfolds at the base,
And some blocks are dragged off to build new houses.
Topside, binoculars can sight its ramparts
Winding through dark-blue mountains farther north . . .
That monumental, chill indifference
Explains why boys graffiti names on it
(Or jokes), no matter if their scrawny slashes
In time begin to erode. Decades ago,
I gouged in mine, it wasn’t yet forbidden.
Luckily, dense vines screen the signature,
Made at an age when we assume our name
Amounts to more than permanent stone structures.
Oh, even now it sparks a vocal reflex
When I move the leaves and read it there again.