Michael Symmons Roberts

The Wounds


Betrayal begins at home, a fine-boned fledgling,
blown-in through your window, heart a-shiver.

Suffering starts out there, in vast untended forests,
where it rolls, gathers under leaves until

the day you come to find it.
Wounds are local, particular. Even his;

the man I found on wasteland out
beyond the house-backs, in a clench of gorse

too tight for dens or dogging, hangs he
like a haunch amid the yellow blooms, the thorns,

the smell of coconut, his clothes ripped on re-entry,
bleached silk like a tattered parachute, his skin

dried out by wind and sun, and there,
above his eyes (still open) blood-lines

stripe his brow.



Somebody is after me,
gaining miles a day,

and unlike me
they never stop to sleep.

I have to save this fallen pilot
before I am lost myself.

I spend hours in his gorse cell,
asking him which war,

which world, which side,
but he says nothing.

I have tried to salve the bullet-hole
in his left hand

but cannot staunch it,
rain drips off his tunic.

I set a fire to ward the foxes off.



O pilot, will I ever know
what brought you down?

I pull his right glove off
and find a deeper wound.

Did this hand flinch
in fellow-feeling for the other,

upturned like a shucked crab,
legs curled in on its agony?

His cupped hand holds
a catch of blood and rain.

Fugitive and parched,
I drink from it,

and for a moment all the ersatz
world, its coincidence and chaos,

feels inevitable, utter.



Even if I could revive him
he would barely stagger,

his boots are shot through,
and the dark tan leather

blooms with ox-blood.
He is so entwined with this,

the gorse that broke his fall,
that I begin to wonder

if he crashed at all, or rather,
broke from some aberrant seed

within this bush, but where
he should have been picked off

by starving winter birds,
instead he grew twisted and limber,

too heavy to move.



Those who pursue me
are mere hours away.

Where they come from,
there is no rain,

so their tyres smell
of cinder tracks and tar.

I wince at the sound
of an engine, slam of a door.

I cannot save this pilot,
not with such a loss of blood.

So I rip his shirt to bare
the largest wound,

beneath his ribs. I tear
the wound lips wider still,

climb inside and hide.


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