Valjevo 1915

Jeremy Allan Hawkins

Sometime in August,

the rain we needed,

the binge,

pummeled the roofs,

pooled in the roads,

and all the sentries perked up,

admiring valley walls fleeced

in what-would-be verdure,

tasting the plums

sure to thrive

in the pledge of some

tomorrow afternoon harvest,

apple carts and all,

bursting off the horizons

of the hilltops in estrus —

until then barren

and sown with the strange

seed of men on watch,

guarding against typhus

and an army that may

or may not come back.

The rain we needed came

when we didn’t need it,

couldn’t use it —

when the army

was left to seed,

pairing farm women

with the wrong soldiers,

each man with an ox

and a borrowed ploughshare,

while in the distance white cities

stained with urine and vomit

seemed to eager

for as much lye

as the ground could take

but we confused precautions

with cowardice;

without a decorative sword

no man is an officer.

The rain we’d needed

fed whole valleys of mud,

fields swollen with bracken,

and the feeling of weight

in the air and the chest —

so much swimming done

in crossing the square,

in bargaining for an egg,

in marching down roads,

the routes to kingdoms

unburdened by such freedoms

as only the dead know and bring —

cisterns bulging with brown water.

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