“Fragile Fossil” mixed media © Bridget Seley Galway


Canto XX of A War Papyrus

How would they, how could they,
These indigent, transient, intransigent strays,
Fully brace themselves
For ever more indignities,
Ever more humiliations,
That come their way?

Come their way, they did,
Replete as the variables constituting experience
And as variegated as the methods of psychological torture,
Replete as the atomic structure of corruptible matter
And myriad as the rapid mutability of the foundations of their
Ever more dire circumstances

Theirs, if they were lucky,
Was just to keep their footing. Theirs was
Surviving, thriving in their strivings as half-lives, and
Ultimately, like leaves, to fall from the limbs of boughs,
Becoming the circumnavigation of the desiccated
With faces wizened, and forms that seem
To be forever swept in recurring vortexes and counter vortexes,
To which at every street corner
The leaves could be found skidding and scraping dizzyingly
Into and around cracks in pavements. Kinetic,
The as much as demised, the as much as despised, the demonized,
Battered by the vagaries of life’s winds,
Would stay this way perennially were it not
For the fact that the very factor of being severed
From such heights and dragged by invisible
Natural forces hastened their decomposition.

For how within the chain of events
Could they do otherwise
Than be swept away vertiginously in spirals
When the captive rock of the Earth
Too was in spirals, as was
Sun to galaxy, galaxy to universe,
And the universe,
Spiraling and arching forward in
All four directions,
Due to the density
Of its chemical composition
That ignited it all initially.
Myriad the impecunious were and
Myriad the variables
Shaping and dissipating or dispersing
Them in a millionth second, like the gravel of
Coalesced and disintegrated stellar debris often
Referred to as planets
When considered in terms of
Evolution and devolution in the span
Of millions of years.

Within vortexes and counter vortexes
Leading to maelstroms and counter maelstroms
In the silent, lugubrious tempests of the mind,
Theirs, especially for those who lost all in war,
Were lives of unmitigated, unparalleled suffering;
And yet to those of means, suffering could be argued
As merely a perception. But perspicacious creature that
The human creature was, none could just choose
To be obtuse and insensible to being slighted,
Humiliated, spat upon figuratively and metaphorically,
Arguing it as a form of ablution, as though
Stripped of possessions and
Becoming homeless, jobless, roleless, and worthless
The violation was the blight of those who were stripped
Instead of the social stripping and pillorying itself

And so, is it not just that
With millions of the homeless
In this country alone,
Billions on the planet, I should
Rejoin them, albeit in the isolated
And insular domain of my mind,
Sleeping along the streets as they do each night,
Each day, aimlessly, miscellaneously,
Wandering the tortuous roads,
Knowing full well that in lingering too long
In any one place any rest
Could cause me to be arrested?

This firing for the brain’s neurological misfiring–
Or if not misfiring, firing differently than they wanted
As that which they wanted were hours of reflexive responses without
Some minutes of an employee holding his head in his hands
And imploring querulously of the need
To be taken home now and
Of not knowing where he was at–
Should have been expected, just as for a war veteran
Implosions of the mind should be expected.

One day, only one day, while washing dishes at that soup kitchen
I slipped on, and my weight broke through, the thin, shallow ice of
(Rationality an artificial construct for social cohesion
And thus, delicate and breakable)
And for some minutes, if it was not callow depths that
Geysered over me, making me awash
In a child’s senses and apprehensions–
No, a myriad of boys of different ages of me
All transported onto the battlefield,
All trying to avoid blasts of shrapnel
The best they could–I sank into
The bottom of the ocean
Into forgotten fathoms of me.
And because of this momentary confusion
The job was taken from me
And the streets became mine once again

Governments and social agendas
Murder and maim with
Posthumous awards
Of he died for the country
Their only form of consolation,
Their only form of reparation,
And the living dead hobbling around on one leg
With active wars still in their heads
Were not even vouchsafed this


Steven David Justin Sills is an American poet and novelist whose first book, An American Papyrus, was published by the New Poets Series in 1990. The book is in various libraries and a scanned copy is in the Internet Archive. After completing his last novel, The Three Hour Lady, the Russo-Ukrainian War began and he decided to return to the art of poetry as the best means of conveying the trauma of war and the struggle for and the struggles of human existence. This particular canto of the long poem, “A War Papyrus” examines society’s treatment of the homeless and those experiencing post traumatic stress disorder

Artist/poet Bridget Seley-Galway received a BFA in Painting and a degree in Art Education at UMass Amherst. Her collection of poems and images What Moments Yield has been published by Ibbetson Street Press, and has been included in the following permanent collections: N.Y.C Poets House, State University of Buffalo collections, Umass Amherst W.EB Du Bois Library, and the Truro Library Cape Cod. Her poems have been published in Provincetown Magazine’s Poetry Corner, Wilderness House Literary Review, Poetry Porch, Ibbetson Street, and Bagels with the Bards anthologies, to name a few. Her art has been exhibited throughout New England, and reviewed in several publications, including Artist Magazine and Cape Arts. Her paintings have been selected for the covers of Bagels with Bards, Ibbetson Street, and individual poet publications. She is currently the Arts Editor/Curator for the Wilderness House Literary Review.