Holy City of Byzantium

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by Tom Paulin (b. 1949)

Nightwatch after nightwatch
Paul Klee endured
‘horribly boring guard duty’
at the gasoline cellar
and every morning
outside the Zeppelin hangar
there was drill then a speech
tacked with junk formulas
he varnished wings
and stencilled numbers
next to gothic insignia
a private first-class
with a lippy dislike
of their royal majesties
and Flying School 5 (Bavaria)

he wrote home to Lily
it’s nice this spring weather
and now we’ve laid out a garden
between the second and third runways
the airfield’s becoming
more and more beautiful

each time a plane crashed
– and that happened quite often
he cut squares of canvas
from the wings and fuselage
he never said why
but every smashed biplane
looked daft or ridiculous
halfjokey and untrue
– maybe the pilots annoyed him?
those unlovely aristos
who never knew they were flying
primed blank canvases
into his beautiful airfield.

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