A Journal of Forgetting
They fight wars like civilized men,
even shaking hands over the trenches
on Christmas Day;
and signing treaties with a sweep
of the pen.
Combat is their ballet,
an art form to them;
the rules of strategy apply
and a certain decorum.
They are not savages, no;
they guide their battalions
where they are told to go.
They celebrate their victories
with china cups bloated with tea,
and snifters of the finest brandy:
little Napoleons that pose
for portraits with hands tucked
over their bellies, smug expressions,
dressed in his shadow;
their enduring glory
that may never come.
I am not a strong enough soul for this life;
I want to go home,
the home I dream of
when I sleep in stinking foxholes
of mud and loam,
while water floods my boots
and rots my feet down to the bone,
while bursts of artillery fire
rattle my skull like a feral beast.
I want to feel joy again,
and return to the country
from where I came, to the home
where I grew to be the man that I am.
The mustard gas eats my breath;
I can feel my lungs dissolve,
my throat fills with blood and pulp;
it burns, it turns,
it blinds me.
Last night I slept standing up;
lying down will drown me.
Now I drown in my own body,
a far sea issues its briny fluid
from within me;
and if I survive I shall exist
as a wastrel, an invalid.
Each day stretches, outnumbering the last;
pearl light pales the window I stare at
day after day, waiting
for your familiar face to wander past.
A ghost image against the glass:
it is not you,
just the neighbour walking through
or the postman bringing me letters,
the ones that come from you,
the ones that tell me you’re coming home
and to wait for you;
you know I do.
I dream of you, wherever you may be:
dancing in the cafes in Paris,
or sipping wine in Burgundy
or gazing at stars over the Seine,
one last time before your deployment
to fields unseen by the strong
and the ordinary like me.
I try not to think of the improbability
of your return, wrapped like a mummy,
a flag for your burial shroud,
reposing in a foreign grave.
Wherever you rest, whatever you’ve seen,
you remain far, much too far
away from me.
We are not permitted to view the caskets;
the hounds are thrown a bone or two
to gnaw upon, their shutters clapping
like a Cyclops’ eye;
one final snap and they are gone.
Sometimes a wife or mother
will throw herself upon the lid,
mourning the times she could have saved him
from where he went and what he did.
The coffins are planted like seeds in the earth
in the hopes that something benevolent will grow;
while in the foreign land, on foreign soil
another family buries their own;
flowers massacre themselves upon the stone
where boys as young as ten
grew in death to becoming men.
Every little kindness will be stitched
into their epitaphs.
The dead depend on it
so they will not become the last
or the lost
in a journal of forgetting.
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