Drawing Straws

1 May 2018

I keep seeing things – glancing light on a window
and darkness, the kind you can look through and see
the cold sou’westerly fretting the leaves of the chestnut outside.
Just the night wind has me back at Torbay:
it gusts against the roof and sends me from my bed
to stand between the curtains and the cold glass, looking out.

It starts raining and I think of him navigating those night flights.
The little I know makes him a stranger and I can only
sense the years that vanished when he died.
The space at the table where his stooped head obscured the trees
outside is clear now, yet I see him sitting there unspeaking.

Silence is a kind of tyranny, his broken to pronounce:
life is the accumulation of scar tissue, it’s just pain.
Perhaps it was this that got him through
the time in his mind that dwelt between the rivers
Isar and Amper as Prisoner No. 146708
armed with silence and a small knife he fashioned for himself

to carve up bread so that he could draw straws with the others
for a crust, and know that what couldn’t curb
his hunger was at least scrupulously fair.
This was what he told us of as children, and that when he was shot
down he shouldn’t have hidden from the cold in a haystack.

The leaves on the chestnut were turning,
fallen husks mulching in the grass. It was Easter,
I think – I was small and he old, his head half-shorn.
When I asked he told me the wind blew his hair away
as he leaned from a window.
But what of time without a window or a way out –

opening into cold night and a track through the trees to the river?
Long after all that the chestnut stood bare
until no one could say which spring it didn’t green.
Then someone cut it down, stacked the wood
against the stump and left it.

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