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W. N. Herbert, from A Balkan Exchange


It seems that I've arrived here afterwards,
but Sofia, named for wisdom, doesn't say:
the world I've missed won't sit in any words.

It was the same in Moscow, Beijing — blurred
by jetlag, all the stars were rolled away
they told me, and I'd landed afterwards.

The statutes rip, the statues tip, the birds
return to sing upon dictators' graves —
the world's a mist that shifts, in other words.

So Palaeologos, lost in sickle swords,
threw Byzantium and his purple robe away —
then I arrived, long after afterwards.

And even in my own land, all the hoards
are long since ransacked and their skulls displayed,
the world I've missed won't sit in canny words.

So Sofia, swaddled in the empires' shrouds,
lets me discover her in disarray.
I know that I've arrived at afterwards,
and the world, once missed, won't fit just any words.