Commemoration Hour

by Adam Horovitz


Commemoration Hour

A moth-cupped flame sputters

out of silence in my kitchen, draws insects 

whining through the window's crack.

 

They sing like distant bi-planes,

dogfight-dancing at the edge of sight.

 

I watch red wax spill

over the candle's battered lip

and think of family, long dead,

 

the quiet men on unquiet fronts

who let the rituals of their religion 

 

slide away, buoyed up 

on propaganda, desperation, hunger,

as they wrote loving letters in the dark

 

succoured only by a single flame,

by the guttering distances of home.

 

Oh, how they dreamed of family,

gave thanks to G-d for the minuscule mercies

of the weekly post (when it got through)

 

but even the gentlest man will break inside

when bombs and snipers dictate their diet,

 

when all the animals of hell

come crawling out from under mud

on sinews of metal clasping at the bone.

 

*

 

What precisely did they die for,

or limp home wounded with?

My grandfather never said, sitting in silence,

with his memories, in the garden of his weekend home 

until he was forced to cross Germany's borders

and escape into England two decades  on.

 

Great Uncle Martin could not say.

Splintered in 1915 by enemy fire, only his letters remain

regaling his dearest sister Röschen

with brotherly bravado, detailing requests

for the essentials: paper, food and pens;

whatever news might make it through the lines from home.

 

*

 

The candle's spitting out its last

one hundred years on

but still the news is limited and grim.

 

The insect whine of war continues.

Tanks rumble through my kitchen

whenever the fridge fires up.

 

Commemoration wears an ugly, celebratory mask.

Its eyeholes stare us down like guns

and from its mouth a fine gas seeps. 

 

'Gas! Quick, boys.' An ecstasy of fumbling

in the press for ways to not quite say

"We won, we won, we won!"

 

But we won nothing. The war continues

in fragments, though no one is yet 

crazed enough to join the dots,

 

and all I can see in this quiet hour

is red wax stiffening on the candle

into the faces of all the people that I love.

© Adam Horovitz