after dust clouds settled, after the last strings
of smoke, hoisted by desert breezes, cleared the air,
they must have come, people of those three cities
remaining, to pick among the charred bones,
the rubble of what was once temple and house,
stable and brothel; to kick at stones; to tug
at handles of buckets, blades of shovels and spades.
Later, raising ash plumes in the scorched plain,
cloths at their mouths and noses, eyes burning,
neither fearful nor repentant but full of wonder,
full of the scavenger's overabundant hope,
they would have found her—even as now
some men encounter the woman of their dreams
(beauty of the movie screen, princess they capture
with a camera's flash, girl whose finger brushes theirs
when she takes their card at the market register)—
found her, that is, not as the person she was
but as whom they needed her to be, and, man or woman,
each of them would have wanted a piece of her.
Standing in that wasted landscape,
she must have seemed a statue erected there
as a tribute to human frailty, white, crystallized,
her head turned back as if in longing to be the girl
she had been in the city she had known.
And they must have stood there, as we do,
a bit awestruck, taking her in for a time,
and then, with chisel and knife, spike and buckle,
chipped at her violently and stuffed their leathern
pouches full of her common salt, salt with which
to season for a while their meat, their daily bread.