Chodec on Charles Bridge

‘Vlt’ and ‘va’, ‘wild’ and ‘water’, last gasps
of a lost Celtic lingo – River Vltava, I’ve seen you
in summer sailed and in winter

iced, while along Charles Bridge your sacred
personages stand balustraded.
A statue of Madonna attending to St. Bernard;

a statue of the Holy Saviour; a Statue
of the Lamentation of Christ.  So many saints
I confess to not knowing their names

or studying their deeds – though
I’ve crossed from Old Town to Lesser Quarter
and back, a played-out chodec, gazing

sunburnt for the lack of a July hat.
But now it’s snowy December, and as skaters
wave, veer, huddle in little groups,

I collapse in sludge while agreeing
with myself that nature never will resurrect us
after we are done and dusted.

Above my head, the metal and stone
remembrances – out of good faith or gratitude
struck – stare into distance

as though some higher power still fuels
their vision here.  Arse-drenchings
my own lot, yet I am thankful simply to exist,

neither buried nor elevated, taking
my treats and discomforts at ground level,
while icicles dangling from the robes,

hands and noses of the monumented ones
imply that, even in afterglow
or after-echo of their lives, they must undergo

demeanings, serve as conveniences
for crows, whistling instruments of the wind
that blusters little rushes of slush

along the scuffed ice rink of the river.
A world of fragility and flaw, strung from street
to bridge, bridge to tower, as now

a young man beside me leans
forward into symmetrical stillness, his chin
touching the pavement, his hands joined,

his whole body stretched, prostrated,
pressed, making an art of poverty and prayer.
Of alms-seeking too, as the nest

of his cap at his fingertip attests.
Saint or chancer?  Maybe both, but invisible
in the way we feel compelled

to ignore him, look elsewhere, upholster
our own vague, interminable want.
And there they are, the plentiful lures,

shimmer-snakes of tinsel, gift-windowed
shopfronts, Christmas markets
glittering under pearly-white canopied beads

of fairy lights, Gothic spires and cathedral
abutments with their stand-alone
serrations darkening into evening, red roofs

turned to smudged maroon.
A teeter of potentials, the guardian gargoyles
copper-fastening all as they forever

tilt towards us, forever stay put,
growl in silence, stick their rude tongues out,
chortle water on the passing populace.

Patrick Deeley