Eve of another war

for Alison Mitchell

In Milton of Balmaha,
war creeps closer on mossy feet;
the only sound the Water of Mar
thundering like artillery
on its way to join the Endrick.

I’m cleaning stones, picking at
old badges of lichen. Recording
names and dates, I uncover
deaths from war and childbirth;
epidemics, emigrations.

When moss is scraped away,
you see how MEMORY is carved
to make a bower over the name;
D     A     U     G     H     T     E     R
filling the stone from edge to edge.

In quiet kirkyards by Endrick Water
a girl is hovering at my shoulder—
one who crept away from the camp
in Srebrnica while it was dark
to hang herself at the wood’s edge.

Pink cardigan catching the morning light,
closed flower among the branches,
she blossomed on to Europe’s front-
pages. Unnamed and famous
on our screens at evening.

And when I kneel beside a fallen slab
and peel back a thick rug of grass,
there’s a smooth brown underside
like common-or-garden underlay.
A web of roots with mirror-writing.

Words and numerals, raised up
like braille, in paler script,
where earth is searching the stone
with the long, blind fingers of grass
for names, more names.

from Punk with Dulcimer (Peterloo Poets, 2006), © Anna Crowe 2006, used by permission of the author

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