“In War”

Gone are days whispering in hollows
of children’s breath.
Fled have naked lovers,
And grazing fields in follow.

In place are sullen moons
with shadowed thorns,
Vacant holes where houses
once resided. Painted cross adorns.

Sunken sockets pool of blood.
Silent buildings, riddle their
Inquisitors. Across the cobble a
cock has crowed. Starved eat their young.

A second caw, the piles rising,
hard to fill the earth: Seething
furrows quest dominion, sweating
brows gasp to live in. Their dead are renounced.

Then a third, with dust long
settled and fences being rebuilt. Stories
too old, and memories too fade.
The children know not of vengence unannounced.

author’s notes

After seeing Schindler’s List for the second time, I was deeply moved by the unfathomable travesties of war. Although my poem concentrates on specific atrocities in the Jewish ghettoes and concentration camps, it applies generally to all war as well.

I wanted to first paint a pre-war scene, as in the first stanza. Tranquility is quickly replaced by gaping mortar holes and gutted houses. Medic crosses painted on doors were a common sight.

In the last part of the third stanza, I move from general to specific: genocide. Borrowing from the crucifixion of Christ, I chose the imagery of a crowing bird to personify betrayal. The people are forced to resort to metaphorical cannibalism, hoarding meager sustenance to stay alive.

The second caw of the bird signifies the downward spiral of genocide. The enemy pitted against the people, who’s dead are denied legitimacy by the perpetrators.

The final stanza is the most important. I see it as the result of time healing the war wounds. In the minds of future generations, the severity of what happened also diminishes. The greatest atrocity to the dead is not simply their murder, but their disrespect.

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