Peter Skrzynecki

German War Cemetery - Poem by Peter Skrzynecki

The gate is heavy as lead;
its rusty hinges creak
as we respectfully enter
the cemetery at Glencree
created by a secluded cliff-face
and tiers of spring greenery.
Cut into stone, its name reads,
Deutscher Kriegsfried 1914-18 + 1939-45 .

On the outskirts of Dublin
I wish I could name
the birds that sing
in these darkened trees and mosses—
below water running fresh
from the Wicklow Hills.
I like to think they are the souls
of the German military
buried here—one,
two, three names to a plot
of neatly-trimmed lawns,
an enclosure of stone
where a pietà is embedded
in coloured mosaics
on its rustic walls.

Did they die on Irish soil
or were they washed up
on the Irish coast?
Perhaps both, our friend smiles,
surprised by the question.
I don't know.

The birds' singing
falls to a hush
and I try to pray
for whatever reason—
remembering that my own birth
was on German soil
shortly before the War ended
in April, 1945.
Whatever the affinity I feel
can't be totally useless,
I say to myself.
They are the dead
and deserving of respect—
whatever their nationality,
whatever the circumstances
of each death:
hearing the words
of a woman in Carrick-on-Shannon to me
a day earlier:
In Ireland the dead come first.

We leave in silence
as we arrived;
file out through the damp air
and light grown colder
though filled with a strange,
transparent energy.
The gate clangs shut
the way I've heard and seen
gates close in films
about prison life.
A hard-steel clang. Heavy. Definite—
as if to say
there is no coming back.
The birds respond
with a plaintive chorus—
that rises and falls,
hovers like a flame
over bronze plaques and crosses—
but do not leave
their sanctuary of trees, water, mosses.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, June 9, 2017

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