On Beauty
A sword held high above a goat's head,
Then the goat with no head ---
Calcutta, where my father was stationed in the war.
Tiny black and white snapshots in a row.

By the time his ship sighted Australia
One soldier had been burned in a vat of oatmeal,
Another swept from the deck and drowned.

What happened next was like a movie.
Soldiers clambering through knee-high water to a beach
Where villagers have set up card tables,
Platters of food --- what food
The camera doesn't care about because
Soldiers are throwing themselves on the grass,
Rubbing the red dirt on their faces, their mouths ---

I overheard him tell this story to my daughter
While they were coloring Easter eggs,
Painting them with wax to resist the dye,
Tracing patterns with the head of a pin.

Our capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful
Survives, unlike beauty,
Amid the harshest distractions.
For white and yellow against green

Dip the egg in yellow dye, dry it, mark it
With wax again, clear paraffin,
Then submerge it in blue.

---James Longenbach
From The Iron Key
©2010 W. W. Norton
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