Ken Smith

Here you will find the Long Poem The Shadow of God of poet Ken Smith

The Shadow of God

To Mohács
in the marshlands, still in the pouring rain,
August 29th, 1526, where those summoned 
and hastily gathered died in thousands
in the space of a moment the chronicler
scribbles, in the safety of distance,
cruel panthers in a moment to hell's pit.
That day the guns chained wheel to wheel,
smoke and the cries of men and horses,
the knights shot from their saddles, armour
dragging them into the mire, the hooves
stamping them in, the infantry butchered,
in the space of a moment the swift
routine of retreat, slaughter and rout,
the space of a moment. No prisoners,
the wails of the wounded, the dying, becks
brimmed with blood, and the young king
thrown from his horse, drowned in his breastplate.
Thereafter Suleyman recalls he sat on the field
in the pouring rain on his glittering throne
to the long applause of his army: I am
Sultan Suleyman Han, son of Sultan Selim Han,
son of Sultan Bayezid Han. The shadow of God. 
And they butcher the captives, dig the pits,
to bury their own brave dead, horses and men,
30 thousand whose last rainy day was this,
and the other dead lie in the rain, or scatter
their bones in the wetlands and the reedgrass.
Whatever birds pecked out their eyes
their names are no matter nor the stream
they drowned in nor the name of the planet
whose soft brown body they shovelled in after.
Thereafter the land burns and the churches,
thereafter women and slaves and silver.
And thereafter, pronounces the historian,
his quill's tip brushing his cheek, his point
squeaking over the page, the lamp's glint
on his inkhorn: the long Turkish night,
the tomb of the nation, dug in the rain. 

In the space of a moment, in the centuries
moments pile into, leaf over leaf,
season by season as the winters pass
and the wars roll over and the borders shift
it is ploughland, old bones surfacing
at the hoe's edge and the plough's iron,
scapulae and vertebrae rising in a flat
wide fenced country laid open to the wind,
prowled by the tractors of the collectives
and the same wandering birds, black earth
through white snow, wind beaten scarecrow
and the white silence of another winter.
It is a museum of bones in the thick boney
stew of each other, where some bird sings
in the evergreens and a boy rings a bell
in the long white silence that follows. 

It is a field of poles upright at a pit's rim,
carved into cruel faces, chiselled in grimaces,
spiked, helmeted, horned, a ragged line of posts
that are totems of men straggling off into trees,
some aslant, the long necks of horses
rearing from snow. They are flail and bludgeon
and battleaxe, calvaries of yokes and the bows
of the swift horsemen, the trailed arms
of the willow tree. They are the crescent moon
and the star, the cross, the crown, the turban
and the tarboosh, gnarled glances of soldiers,
the figures of dead men rising from the earth,
Suleyman with a basket of heads at his pommel
and the dead king Lajos in his blue bonnet.
Overhead the high jets in the clear blue
corridor of cloudless sky above Serbia,
flying the line of the great rivers
whose names are the same though the names
of the empires and the nations shift
on the maps. South of here, not far,
in the debateable lands of the warring states
the bones are again rising in the mud.

Very fast very slow the music
a lament from the villages
a music come down from the mountains
called across rivers across plains:
ah no joking and no joking
a gift for the kolo, bridegroom
the thieves they are singing
dance my love dance faster
faster till we fall down. 

The reedgrass that will be thatch
first snowy fields turned in the plough.
A line of trucks in a white field
waiting for grain not yet sown:
end of the winter quarter
end of the season of craving
the river's ice drifting south
snow collapsing from the buildings:
the days of the death of King Winter. 

The Busójárás. 

Time to take to the streets
wearing the skins of beasts
masks years in the making offspring
of the old whisperers in the hearth
kin to the devotees of trees
and certain stones and all rivers
lord of the vines and beasts
our lady of the wild things the old gods
who never made it into heaven. 


They step out of the unwritten
the unremembered out of Illyria
out of the south the dark the flight
and the distant remembrance of panic
the horned hoof footed hard drinking
god of the shepherds. They step out
through the winter streets in masks
horns in sheepskins and bandoliers
with their bells and their rattles. 


With their antlers tall in the skins
of beasts belled shaggy moustache men
huge with their clubs and horns
wild in their tall w