Today he named the snow. He is himself
fresh snow, and the baby shoots poking through.
When he looks at the lake
an estuary of light
catches him flush on the face
and borrows his startled breath
to utter itself,
immediate voice, immediate water.
In the musical car
he stares at the winter colours
of Picardy ; but the violet scale
and tints of fusco-ferruginous
still wait to enter his vocabulary.
That in time I shall supply,
for I need him as he needs language ;
we’re perfect companions for a journey.
I can’t so easily explain
my thirst for ghosts and expiation
which touches him yet goes beyond
anything I would have him learn ;
what makes me drag my toddler round
the whimpering forest of Verdun,
or stand together in a rising mist
on Douaumont, to overlook a battleground
of squalor and obedience…
Trouble closer home has sent me out
to clench myself in a punitive wind
under a bloodshot sky
where I hope to be forgiven
by Our Lady of the Marne
whose infant warns the enemy
Tu n’iras pas plus loin
as my own tugs my sleeve
to bring me away
from this landscape of memorials…
All I would have him learn
are the colours of the field,
mild grey and khaki ; the blue horizon.
from Plato’s Ladder (OUP, 1992), © Stephen Romer 1992, used by permission of the author and Carcanet Press