The Road

Monday, January 15, 2024

Farther up the road lay a heart without a body. It was unclear from which soldier it had come.
—Last line of an article in the Los Angeles Times about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, March 5, 2022

There was a dead man lying face down in the road.
For days, his body lay in the snow. And the soldiers who saw it
felt a wintry stillness move through them. They paused

to regard the afternoon shadows and then kept on with their marching.
The men stepped carefully around a torso—
its arms stretched out like a swan landing on water,

what used to be legs twisted like a broken ladder.
They were following orders. When the men marched by the heart
they thought they could hear the sound of it

no longer beating, a deep silence that rose
through the soles of their boots and seemed to grow
out of the ground they walked on. The men clutched their guns

to their chests. They had thought to fight a war
and be done with it. But a heart lay in the road.
And they will never stop hearing the sound of it

not beating. They will carry it back to their families.
They will hear it while singing their children to sleep.
They will lie down with the emptiness and wake in the night listening

to what isn’t there. The road will never go back to being a road,
or the field a field. The earth will gather up the silence and play it
in graveyards and grasslands. And on either side of the road

that is no longer just a road, where wild cherry trees stand vigil,
their branches crusted with ice. The land will go on mourning,
and the trees will burst with fruit the color of fresh blood.

Men die for that sweetness.

Monday, January 15, 2024