The Twelve

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There by some wrinkled stones round a leafless tree
With beards askew, their eyes dull and wild
Twelve ragged men, the council of charity
Wandering the face of the earth a fatherless child,
Kneel, at their infidelity aghast,
For where was it, somewhere in Syria
Or Palestine when the streams went red,
The victor of Rome, his arms outspread,
His eyes cold with his inhuman ecstasy,
Cried the last word, the accursed last
Of the forsaken that seared the western heart
With the fire of the wind, the thick and the fast
Whirl of the damned in the heavenly storm:
Now the wind's empty and the twelve living dead
Look round them for that promontory Form
Whose mercy flashed from the sheet lightning's head;
But the twelve lie in the sand by the dry rock
Seeing nothing-he sand, the tree, rocks
Without number-and turn away the face
To the mind's briefer and more desert place.

© Allen Tate