“Androgynous Figure, City & Sky” © DL Polonsky


And Still They Ring

Matthew 10:34-36
Matthew 19:14


There was a time
when the sun sank low,
far beneath the fields,
and freed the throngs
of hidden things:

the Hope attendant
on a crawling ladybug;
the Peace that wafted
from the soil;
the Love that flowed
through whispering leaves;
the Joy of breathing
the scent of green.

There was a time
when the dawn was cool
and softly stirred;
There was a time
we sat on wicker rockers
and waited
for the morning bells to ring–

O, how we rejoiced
when the morning bells did ring.


The cityfolk
and valleyfolk
across the lands of Christendom.
They stretch their arms,
kiss their husbands, kiss their wives…
gag at the other’s morning breath.

They bathe in the rivers;
they greet their neighbors;
they wonder how the price of bread has changed.

The swans watch them from their sprawling nests;
the feral cats hide in hyacinth beds;
and the sparrows search the riverbanks for worms.

C’est un beau matin, says a man
as he dries himself with a tattered cloth.
On verra, on verra, says the neighbor
as he plucks a blueberry from a bush.

On ne sait jamais.

The women open the shutters,
dust out the kitchen,
then they rush to wake the children:

Awake, awake
the sun is rising soon!
Awake, awake,
you cannot sleep ’til noon!
There are cows to feed,
hay to be swept–
Up! Up! Should I tell your father
you’ve overslept?

So, with discontented mumblings,
and some less-than-savory grumblings,
the children rise from their beds–
they glower beneath the kisses placed upon their heads.

Look, the dawn is breaking!
Look, the moon is sinking!
And soon, soon, we will hear–
come children, gather near,
for soon we will hear
the singing of the bells.

The bells, they sing
the bells, they sing
for me, for you!

Come, little Claribelle;
Come, little Jacques;
Sit by the window and hear
how the Devil’s teeth crack!

For the Devil does not like the bells,
no, not one bit;
the Devil fears the bells–
they bind him to his fiery pit.

So, let’s listen to their Heavenly song!
Let’s listen, and sing along:

‘Til ringing, singing on its way
the world revolved from night to day,
a voice, a chime, a chance sublime
of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.


The hunchbacks crawl from musty dens
with mucus in their lungs–

          The night was cold.
          The nights are always cold.
          But the Masters give us blankets,
          give us blankets, yes, and tell us
          we are home.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  We give the hunchbacks
                                  blankets and hyacinths and loam.

The hunchbacks crawl from musty dens
to ring the bells of Christendom–

          We pull the ropes,
          the ropes pull us,
          we leap from the rafters and soar.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  We give the hunchbacks
                                  blankets and hyacinths and loam.
                                  Thank you, they say.
                                  So pretty, they say.
                                  We give them terracotta pots
                                  to grow the flowers in their rooms.
                                  And thus, the hunchback -mind is
                                  fooled– they see
                                  their world is pretty,
                                  they want
                                  for nothing more.

With backs bent-double
by the swinging vaunted bells,
the hunchbacks crawl from musty dens
to feel the freedom of flight–

          But land we must,
          our feet must find their place,
          or the bells will roll
          and the ropes will whip
          and we’ll be crushed
          against the towers’ ancient stones.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  We’ve killed our hunchbacks before:
                                  We tire of their idiot moans.

The hunchbacks limp to banquet halls
and eat with the Masters
to learn the ways of Christendom–

          Our lives our small,
          but we are loved:
          See? Our hyacinths grow tall.
          We eat this bread,
          we drink this wine,
          for thine is the kingdom,
          the power, and the glory,
          forever and ever.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  We teach the hunchbacks to obey,
                                  for, yes, ours is the kingdom,
                                  is the power, is the glory,
                                  forever and ever.

The hunchbacks crawl to musty dens
with bread crumbs in their beards
and prayers upon their tongues —

          Though we crouch throughout the night,
          though we sleep with heads upright,
          we bless the day
          the Masters saved us
          from cold infernal wells
          to teach us the ways
          of the vaunted Christian bells.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  The hunchbacks signify nothing.
                                  We do everything, everything,
                                  for the ringing of the bells.

In the hunchbacks’ musty dens,
from mounds of freely-given loam,
the purple hyacinths sway —

          And yet, as we watch
          the hyacinths sway,
          and as the moonlight
          fills our eyes,
          we begin to feel,
          we begin to fear,
          something we don’t
          fully understand.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  We are the Masters.
                                  Christendom is ours
                                  to command.


And so,
the bells let forth a joyous song
that pleased the people all day long.

They picked their fruits,
they did their chores;
they gossiped with their neighbors,
they said their husbands were bores.

And the doves twittered,
and the pigeons cooed,
and the wild wind roamed
through fields of splendor–

          We are the Masters.
          We watched their children play
          in Flanders fields.
          We watched their children roll
          and laugh and play
          in Flanders fields of splendor.
          We watched their children pick the poppies
          from Flanders carefree fields,
          and braid them, braid them
          in their wild, wild hair.
          The time had come–

All was well in joyful Christendom.


The countryside burned.
The poppies birthed a violent red.
Our children breathed in poison,
and, one by one, fell dead.


We are the Masters–

Forsooth! Forsooth!
the world is ending soon!
Forsooth! Forsooth!
We’ll ring the bells at noon!

We’ll ring the bells at noon,
to keep the Devil at bay;
We’ll ring the bells at noon,
we’ll ring the bells all day!

All day, all day,
we’ll ring the bells all day;
All day, all day,
we’ll keep them ringing the whole blessèd day!

Patience and penitence,
that’s what we need from you.
Patience and penitence,
and the Lord will love thee true!


The hunchbacks crawled from musty dens
to find dead children at their feet–

          We will not speak
          of what we saw.
          We confessed
          to our hyacinth friends
          our thoughts of rage, and guilt,
          and grief.

                                  We are the Masters.
                                  Lean in close:
                                  We took their children
                                  so they’d understand
                                  Christendom is ours
                                  to command. Now,
                                  Bind their bodies to the bells:
                                  Teach these people
                                  where true splendor dwells.


O, the clamor the clamor the clamor
the ding-dong ringing
from noxious dawn to dusk.

They dampened the clappers
with our childrens’ flesh;
dug up their bodies
and dampened the clappers
with our childrens’ rotting flesh.

They told us to give thanks
beneath their splattering blood;
they told us to open our mouths
and drink their splattering blood.

But still the forests burned
and still the cattle died;
But still the rivers ran foul,
and still the Masters sighed:

“Patience and penitence,
offer these up to the bells;
compliance and repentance
will end these earthly hells.”

Forgive us Lord for we have sinned,
we said.
Forgive us Lord for we have sinned,
we cried.
Forgive us Lord for we have sinned,
we lied.

Justice, let there be Justice–
But the Masters take
what the Masters must.
Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust.

And so the belltowers loom loom
loom loom loom loom doom and gloom
And the gargoyles go on leering
And the rafters go on shaking
And the hunchbacks go on leaping–

the bells must roll like thunder.

So the clamor the clamor the clamor
goes on sounding goes on pounding
songs of martyrdom and lying
as all of Christendom goes on denying–

We have forgotten
how to live unbowed.
This ding-dong clanging
is too much too rich too loud.


The hunchbacks lock themselves in musty dens:

          We’ve rung the bells
          from dawn to dusk
          for over ten long years.

                                  And they will keep on ringing
                                  until the people understand
                                  we are the Masters:
                                  Christendom is ours to command.

The hunchbacks scream from musty dens:

          We don’t know why we do this,
          pull the ropes, stuff the children
          in the bells!

                                  We saved you
                                  from cold infernal wells.

The hunchbacks weep from musty dens:

          We’ve rung the bells
          from dawn to dusk
          for over ten long years,
          and still, the fields of splendor
          burn. No more,
          no more, no more
          will we ring the bells.

                                  It doesn’t matter.
                                  We are the Masters:
                                  there will always be hunchbacks
                                  dangling above cold infernal wells.


Once, our children laughed
in flowing fields of splendor,
where the air smelled of Earth
and hummed with the songs
of wandering bees.

Once, we strolled down center streets
and let them choose the week’s supply of bread–
O, how they laughed when the pigeons cooed
and pecked the crumbs
from their overly-generous palms.

Once, we ate ice cream in checkered booths
with wooden spoons wedged deep in melting scoops–
O, how they fussed when we wiped their faces!
Hold still, two more seconds,
goodness gracious, just hold still!

Our childred died,
and the ones who lived
are dead inside.

No more ice cream
on sunday afternoons.
No more walks
through flowing fields.
No more bread
for the pecking birds–

there are no more birds.
They all choked above the burning fields.

And still we rise
to go to work again–
who are we
to stop the clanging of the bells?


We masters lounge on silken thrones
and rejoice in the pops of purple grapes.
We roll rubies in our palms
and tell the people “Make haste.”

Make haste, make haste,
for the sun is falling soon;
make haste, make haste–
hide from the light of the moon.

The moon, the moon,
the great unblinking eye;
the moon, the moon,
the master of the sky.

We charm in the daytime,
we dazzle at noon time. Then,
we wash our feet
of filthy city grime.

We give orders,
we seize contraband,
we point to the bells
swung by calloused hands:

“Be grateful,
O impoverished you.
Be grateful
the Lord remembers you.”

But, at night, in the quiet of our rooms,
we lay beside our sleeping wives,
(our semen’s in their hair)
and remember how the pagan gypsies trembled
in their city of tombs;
how the widows hissed beside the marketstalls;
how the butchers mashed bloody meat
into palatable flavored balls;
(we’ve raped them at the fairs)
how the eyes, the eyes, the eyes
followed our swishing robes,
the ever-watching eyes
(we never thought we’d care)
of paupers, of bakers, of midshipmen, of fiends;
of courtesans and prostitutes; of failures and kings;
of blacksmiths and erudite palmists;
of salt-farmers and polyphonic psalmists;
of nobles and knights; of bishops, of cardinals, of priests!
(We beseech Thee, Lord, spare us their mournful stares)

And the hunchbacks, the hunchbacks,
who ring the city’s bells;
the hunchbacks, the hunchbacks,
we’ve spared from countless wells.

They pull the ropes, they ring the bells,
as the moon ascends they ring
the evening bells.

The evening bells which always ring
as we chew upon the day.
The evening bells, the evening bells,
by which we cannot pray.

For the hunchbacks gawk with grateful,
hopeful eyes; they take their rations
and murmur a muffled “thanks;”
They pirouette up the ancient rafters
to gaze upon the riverbanks.

They revere us,
they prostrate before us–
to us, this weakness
is deplorable.

we beat them,
we whip them,
we mock them,
we drip poison into their breads;
and after the retching’s done, still
they rise and bow their heads.

How we hate the lacerations on their backs,
and the blood upon their brows;
how we leer at the welts we left
when we pressed cattlebrands against their flesh.

But the evening bells ring and ring and ring,
and the unblinking eye climbs and climbs and climbs,
so we lay our heads upon our wives’
rising breasts–

all hail the mercy of the hunchbacks.


for every child lost to gun violence
Further reading: “Kids Who Die,” by Langston Hughes
” In Flanders Fields, ” by John McCrae

Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy, by Elizabeth Williamson


Angelo D’Amato, Jr. is a writer based in the Boston area. He has been published in Blood Tree Lit, Solstice Literary Magazine, Orchards Poetry Journal, the Oslo Writer’s League, and others. When he’s not writing, he enjoys a good science-fiction film, and maybe a comedy or two. Peter Capaldi is his Doctor (from Doctor Who).

DL Polonsky is a Boston area artist, writer, and filmmaker. His caricatures have appeared in The Boston Herald and His written work includes the children’s book The Letter Bandits from T.B.W. Books.