On a rise overlooking a valley
circled by blue metrical mountains,
where the river source lies,
a collection of shabby dwellings around a church
became a town on a hill
with a single gate, a few high windows, a deep moat,
and thick perimeter walls
in which twenty or thirty families lived, self-sufficient,
the women spinning wool,
the men hunting with nets and falconry,
until, without provocation,
their Lord was murdered in his sleep.
It takes a special charisma for one man to say to another,
“Go forth, kill and be killed.”
Soon there were only a gaunt, arched pig
grubbing among the stones,
a few cocks, and a weary hen.
When an earthquake made the towers sway,
a young heir rebuilt them.
Away with the battlements, away with the drawbridges.
Ditches and moats filled in and planted.
Windows and terraces opened.
The chapel renovated.
Flocks of sheep contributed wool and soft cheeses.
Oxen harrowed the fields.
Lives of the inhabitants prospered for a time,
while on another perch, a battlement rose,
and a warlord with a little white goat watched.
Henri Cole is the author of nine collections of poetry including, most recently, Nothing to Declare, and a memoir, Orphic Paris.