Poetry: The Book of my Enemy — Son of a Soldier | clivejames.com
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Son of a Soldier

My tears came late. I was fifty-five years old
Before I began to cry authentically:
First for the hurt I had done to those I loved,
Then for myself, for what had been done to me
In the beginning, to make my heart so cold.

When the floodgates opened, the flood was not like rain.
With the undammed water came the sad refuse:
The slime, the drowned rats and the bloated corpse
Of the man whose absence had plugged up the sluice
That now gushed junk into my neat domain.

Not older by all that much than my dear daughters
He lay disfiguring a flower bed,
As if by bubbling gas a shallow grave
Of massacre had thrust up one of its dead,
Not to be washed clean by the clearest waters.

I took leave of my wife and knelt beside him
Who could have been my son, though I was his,
And everything he had not come back to tell me
About how everlasting true love is
Was a mouth of mud, so thick did woe betide him.

‘Had you come home, I would not be what I am,’
I cried. ‘I could have loved my mother less
And not searched for more like her among others,
Parched for a passion undimmed by distress
While you lay deep behind that looming dam.’

The wet earth swallowed him. This time his grave
Was marked: at least I knew now where he was.
I turned to meet her eyes. ‘Let me explain,’
I said to her. ‘My tears were trapped because
He left me to be tender, strong and brave

Who was none of those things. Inflamed by fright,
The love that he did not return to make
To the first woman I knew and could not help,
Became in me a thirst I could never slake
For one more face transfigured by delight,

Yet needing nothing else. It was a doomed quest
Right from the start, and now it is at an end.
I am too old, too raddled, too ashamed.
Can I stay in your house? I need a friend.’
‘So did I,’ she said truly. ‘But be my guest:

God knows I too have waited wasted years
To have my husband home. Our parents wept
For history. Great events prised them apart,
Not greed, guilt, lies and promises unkept.
Pray they come not too late, these healing tears.’

The house we live in and that man-sized mound
Are a long walk between, yet both are real.
Like family life, his flowers have their weeds
To save them from a sanitized ideal.
I hope this balance holds until the ground

Takes me down, too. But I fear they will go on thronging,
Those pipe-dream sprites who promise a fresh start —
Free, easy furies haunting a cot-case
That never lived, or loved, with a whole heart —
Until for one last time I die of longing.

What will I tell her then, in that tattoo
Of the last breath, the last gasp, the death rattle?
The truth: that in my life stolen from him
Whose only legacy was a lost battle,
The one thing that belonged to me was you.