sunday, july 4

bohemia

in prague, we stay at a baptist seminary:
simple buildings, cobbled courtyards, a fountain, trees
all around and a stream below the kitchen window

the old city is full of tourist economy
much of it is beautiful despite this
and the bloody conflicted history of all
the saints and kings
whose memory is perpetuated in so much stone

some of it is beautiful because of these things
regardless, the street vendors
sell postcards and dashed-off paintings
of nearly empty squares and bridges —
the muddled, slowly churning presence of
humanity considered as usual
a distraction

the cathedral is an immensity of the kind
that train stations and skyscrapers only aspire to
awesome in the original sense
in the space of ten minutes i understand the reformation
and catholicism both so much better

i also realize that i feel more reverence
in a tiny wooden church barely a century old
and unlikely to last another
than surrounded by this vast, deliberate
magnificence and all its strange accretions

perhaps it is only a function of tainted sound
and lighting — distractions again
here, people point and talk
(we listen to a spanish tour guide
"is fourteen catorce?")
and there is the constant flicker of flash photography

still i could stay an hour, or a day.
something in all this structure draws
me and holds my mind, usually so inconstant

another day, we leave prague behind to find
an ossuary chapel decorated in strings of human skulls
we buy tickets at the door
"you are entering a pious space.
please conserve respekt for the dead."
on one wall a patron's coat of arms
has been rendered in bone;
in the lower right quadrant a bone raven
is pecking the nonexistent eye
out of a "turkish" skull
wearing a bone head dress.

afterwards we wind further into the
countryside to a little bluegrass festival
where to our great fortune
the rain has killed the electronics
and the music proceeds with no amplification at all,
czechs singing "rollin' in my sweet baby's arms"
everyone wants to get themselves a little authenticity

later
around the kitchen table
we talk late over salted cheese
and coffee mugs full of beer
about governments, education,
oilfields, empires, and the things of the world

the next morning i wake up
and it is the fourth of july.