Heresy, Catacombs, Birch – three poems by Daniel Gustafsson

DANIEL GUSTAFSSON has published volumes of poetry in English and Swedish, most recently Fordings (Marble Poetry, 2020). New work appears in Ekstasis, The York Journal, Fare Forward, Amethyst Review and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Temenos Academy Review. Daniel lives in York. Twitter: @PoetGustafsson  


The faults accrue. Our first,

and least original of sins, is this:

a lapse into analysis,

dissecting forms of life,

divesting blazing trees of flame

and foliage. This knife

is how and what we know.             

Forgetting light, we call the shadows true,

observing things at one or two

removes. This heresy

of paraphrase pervading all

we do, we fail to be

fully attuned. Around

us now, the ground displays the marks of war,

the martyrdom of metaphor

beneath our tongues of clay.

The muted boughs are stripped of plumes;

their song, explained away,

is nowhere heard. We’re left

with this: the canopy’s collapsing nave

dispersed in piles of broken staves           

beneath a squandered sun;

a mutilated multiverse,

a kingdom come undone.


Just here, the latest de-

construction site is raised, a treeless grove

of girders, glass and glitz, a trove

of trivialities.

Here settlement is sacrificed

for appetite, to please,

for now at least, our all-

consuming selves. Its glaring voids respond

to vacant eyes alone. Beyond

this light-polluting stuff

and all the false advertisements

the dark is real enough.

Here, then, the surface trail

goes cold. We live the afterglow of him

who led the way; his glory dimmed,

his golden hoard inhumed

in trite idolatries, we seek

it now in catacombs

between the lines, beneath

what occupies this disenchanted space:

the omnipresent marketplace,

its palaces of prose.

We’ve no abiding city here,

this much the poet knows.


I saw. A single form

dissevered. Shorn and scattered leaf from limb,

the storms had racked and shaken him

until our street was strewn

with guttered gold. With any blade

available, we hewed

with glee, not grasping yet

the harm our hands could wield. I saw that bole

of alabaster fall: his whole-

ness halved then halved again,  

the skywards reach, the widening 

cut short across the grain.    

We stacked the stumps on high.   

Soon fire crept along the bed of straw      

then, smarting, licked its leering jaws

and set to work. It seared

my sockets then, to see the blacks            

amass, the bark his bier

assailed by plumes of smoke.

Even now, signs of something breaking clean

from marbled boughs, though freshest green,

can sting unguarded eyes

with memories of sulphurous

and sepia-tinted skies.