Before all sorts of retro disco struts or robot-moves
before seventies cover songs and empty crates of champagne,
the cake comes in sparkling bright with candles from an age
blessed with every success garnered from this new life.
The colonel stands, lifting his glass. The tent’s raised stage
rocked by thunder – earth and sky fast flicked with a knife-
white light drawing out the long squeal of the microphone . . .
True perfumes smell like insect repellent in this weather.
An early dinner, long birthday speeches before the thunder
landed its haunting echo, the colonel’s loss of words, flute
up in the air like a crystal arum on fire against the pregnant
horizon. Once young and bell-cheeked, proud and resolute,
the colonel said to his wife, We must leave here after the rains,
because the war is coming. And so the war came –
loud with every death, dark with every monstrous fear.
No one survived, except him. Wife and son ambushed near
the border, brother silent since crossing to Mozambique,
mother buried in a bricked-up well; and when the Runde
swells, villagers can still taste the blood, the river’s sick
black cream. And he remembers his wife nodding, thunder
folding over the hut, fields bright with burning cane.
So they dance, the sweet lawn dry beneath the canvas tent,
music and French wine, the whispering rain the bold servant
of old memories. And the cover songs know no family but
the large room he sleeps alone in, troubled by grieving, dead
drunk, lost in the heated valley that floods this heart – the hot
blood of men oiling his grip, the war still ruling his bed,
wet with squeals carved beneath his brother’s cheekbones . . .