April 15, 2013

I Went to the Museum to See a Man’s Soul…

I Went to the Museum to See a Man’s Soul…
by Day Al-Mohamed

I went to the museum to see a man’s soul
Wrought in armour, engraved and embossed
with gilt seams and jeweled plates.
Powerful, resolute, heroic - only a shell,
to encompass the dreams of a generation.
Dreams of virtue and honor, of knights chivalrous,
damsels saved; dragons vanquished.
And even trapped behind the glass exhibit
I can hear the echo of peasant crowds cheering their monarch
and feel the thundering hooves as man and horse, clad in armour,
this armour, shook the world.

My fingers ache to touch the cool metal behind the museum’s velvet rope.
To feel every divot, every scratch;
seeking the flaws in the armor
and the men who wore it - only a shell,
that still vibrates with the beating of a charger’s heart
that carried the privileged as they haughtily oversaw
a nation’s-worth of bullion.
The ringing jangle of kingdoms bought and sold.
Cultures oppressed and people enslaved;
the crude metal a mute witness and violent protector
of a glorious empire.

Standing at attention for five hundred years,
representing authority and affluence;
the men who wore them long gone.
The cracked and aging metal remains - only a shell.
We all dream of glory and might, but what lasts is the craft
of a common man. Creator not destroyer, ruled not ruler;
an artist whose goal was to create something beautiful
wrought by hammer and sweat, sinew and forge.
Etched with images of Saracens and flowers,
sacraments and bloody swords. History’s remnants-
God-inspired, human-made.

We are moved by what we see, what we desire. Symbols.
Of heroism and triumph; of power and wealth;
of splendor and skillfulness. Only a shell?
It is why we crowd forward, our breath hot on the glass;
our eyes glazed-over with our own dreams.
Sometimes as fragile as the gossamer threads of gilt and
other times as harsh and immovable as the blackened steel
Of a suit of armour, that is only a shell.
I went to the museum to see a man’s soul
and left behind a piece of my own.

* * *

Day Al-Mohamed is co-editor for the upcoming anthology, “Trust & Treachery” and hosts the multi-author blog Unleaded: Fuel for Writers. Her publications have appeared in “Space and Time Magazine,” "Comets and Criminals," and “Daily Science Fiction.” She is an active member of the Cat Vacuuming Society of Northern Virginia Writing Group, and Women in Film and Video. When not working on fiction, Day is a policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor, and has also worked as a lobbyist and political analyst. She lives in Washington, DC in a house with too many swords, comic books, and political treatises. You can find her online at www.DayAlMohamed.com or @DayAlMohamed.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

What inspires me to write and keep writing is often the amazing things I learn about, things I see or do or hear about. As an example, this poem is inspired by the National Gallery of Art's exhibition, "The Art of Power: Royal Armor and Portraits from Imperial Spain." Sometimes writing comes from the pages of history, both known and lesser known, other times experience, and sometimes, from a moment where you catch yourself pausing and thinking, "Wow, that takes my breath away." Having those experiences and moments of philosophical clarity are great but as people I think we are pushed to capture and share them.

What advice do you have for other poets?

The best poetry is personal. Regardless of what the poem itself is about, it is the all-too-human moments that linger and truly connect with readers.