by Jonathan Yungkans
January snow had melted but wind’s frigid razors shaved away clothes,
skin and blood, until white bones stood in our place. Grass and heather
would stretch long and green in spring but for now, under a brackish sky
it glowered before us brown, solid as a wooden wall in standoffishness—
a wall surrounding a wall. A spine of rocks stretched head-high, straight
and aimless, each vertebra cut square, fitted precise. Naked as a Roman
beneath his tunic, I could see the land hostile, imagine the Picts beyond
more tempest than this morning’s roiling atmosphere. Clouds with arrows
to menace rain on any watch, invisible and piercing. Frost to stick blades
inside scabbards to keep them from drawing. Wariness to harden armor
into a dead person’s embrace. Hadrian drew a line in the land for lichen
to root amid stones. Rome froze here. We returned to the coach to thaw.
PHOTO: Hadrian’s Wall on a cold, misty day. Photo by Manan Fredriksson, used by permission.
NOTE: Hadrian’s Wall is a former defensive fortification of the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. A significant portion of the wall still stands and can be followed on foot along the adjoining Hadrian’s Wall Path. The largest Roman archaeological feature in Britain, it runs a total of 73 miles in northern England. Regarded as a British cultural icon, Hadrian’s Wall is one of Britain’s major ancient tourist attractions. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I visited the Scottish border on an undergraduate tour of Britain in January 1980—a squally, bitter-cold morning. The wall was a ruin. The land had a wildness to it, timeless and a little frightening. It may look more inviting in the spring and summer. That day, it made me feel like an unwanted invader.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and is slated for release by Tebot Bach Publishing in 2020.