Three Elegies for the Unknown Man

[Recent poem. The photo of the falling man on 911 in New York is by Robert Drew, the one of the man leaping at the Gar St Lazare in Paris in 1932 is by Henri Cartier-Bresson.]

Three Elegies for the Unknown Man


Factory worker, student,
were you coming home
from the specials
when you smelt
the gas & guns,
heard shouting,
as slo mo as
a dream,
tanks growling
along the Avenue
of Eternal Peace,
stretcher bearers
jogging the dead
& wounded past
the shot plaster
Lady of Liberty
standing surreally
in tatters

when you nonchalantly
went & stood
with you bags
full of vegetables
before a rolling tank?

Eye to eye
with a snarling grey
machine manned
by power & fear
you invented a little
dance step there
in Tiananmen Square
in perfect tune with
the troubled turret
as it swivelled,
uncalmly considering
its options re
this plastic bag man.

Arrested, free,
murdered by firing
squad, in Taiwan,
you’re dead, alive
as a flower
in a gun barrel


Sitting on the steps
waiting for the bank
to open, it’s 8.15
when nature ends
in a cosmic flash
of death growing
into a mushroom
above your city
& the Human Age
begins most humanly
with chaos & crime
& all we have left
is the eternal shadow
you left to remind us
of what is utterly
beyond & real

a real a million
cameras caught
& made unreal
fifty six years later
as another
missing man
leapt from
plane-sliced towers
in New York
now leaving not
even a shadow
to remind us
of the sheer
unknown nowness
of his unknown


Were you going home
after a day’s sweat
on the road
on the line
in the office
in the bakery
on the tracks
heading through
the cold drizzle
for a pastis & fag
in the bistro
with Jean & Michel
before Marie’s
warming pot au feu
& a cuddle
with the kids

when you leaped
that sudden puddle
at the Gar St Lazare
construction site
from a supine ladder
like a gazelle
a surrealTrickster
madly echoing
the flapping poster
on the nearby fence
of Josephine Baker
dancing in bananas
& Cartier-Bresson’s
casual camera froze
that wildly
improbable moment
of joy, hope,
for ever
in the watery
of the unknowable


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on April 10, 2017.

3 Responses to “Three Elegies for the Unknown Man”

  1. Wow Peter…that was wonderful…!

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