Richard Burns


When night covered Europe

Second Song of the Dead

You who pass this way
in European day
know who walked among
these hills and valleys
a man and a boy
with nothing to say
but half-remembered poems
carrying a machine gun
when night covered Europe

In a mountain village
a woman gave them porridge
and space by her fire
cornmeal and milk
crumbs rich as knowledge
kindness to mend courage
of a man and a boy
carrying a machine gun
when night covered Europe

From a hovel hidden
among rocks and boulders
a girl with smouldering eyes
ran after, calling
take me with you, soldiers
I can man a machine gun
I have two dead brothers
Now I have three others
when night covered Europe

Sleepless in bombed barns
they starved in the gloaming
but kicked over their embers
and left with no traces
to clamber higher spaces
where no armies trundle
and no dead comrades’ faces
moan through broken dreaming
when night covered Europe