The Grauballe Man

As if he had been poured
In tar, he lies
On a pillow of turf
And seems to weep

The black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
Is like bog oak,
The ball of his heel

Like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
Cold as a swan’s foot
Or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
And purse of a mussel,
His spine an eel arrested
Under a glisten of mud.

The head lifts,
The chin is a visor
Raised above the vent
Of his slashed throat

That has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
Opens inwards to a dark
Elderberry place.

Who will say ‘corpse’
To his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
To his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
A mat unlikely
As a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

In a photograph,
A head and shoulder
Out of the peat,
Bruised like a forceps baby,

But now he lies
Perfected in my memory,
Down to the red horn
Of his nails,

Hung in the scales
With beauty and atrocity:
With the Dying Gaul
Too strictly compassed

On his shield,
With the actual weight
Of each hooded victim,
Slashed and dumped.

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The Grauballe Man