Doctors’ Notes

A surgeon soldier, he surrenders with the rest
at Singapore. An empire, and an army, on its knees
before the bicycle army of Japan, neck stretched
and naked for the sword. In Changi, his baffled

tired men are told they are dishonoured
in defeat. Outside his prison, the kempetai chase
down for slaughter Chinese, Malays, whose tongue,
tattoos or faces pronounce them less than beasts.

A civil army, servants, refugees, they die
with no one there to see their fate. Their bodies
clog the beaches, and the nearby straits, and then
are gone. In gaol, white men whose European codes

and voices mark them down for cocktails in the club,
expect Genevan limits to their captivity.
But evident brutality becomes a fact, and they
are starved, and sicken, or are worked to death.

Confined in their infirmary, and using instruments
saved, made, or found, the doctors do their best
to mend or make men’s pitied bodies whole.
Each case or corpse is given care, and written up

to show the treatment needed to perform
the miracle again, or present the case for murder
at whatever end to war a peace might bring.
The suffering Japan might feel, is quick. No fever-feeble

dysenteric end for it. 2 bombs shake loose
their wrath, and all war’s children die. Demobbed
and suited back to home, he takes his papers and his box
of surgeon’s tools and keeps them till he dies.

Each futile case or life he’d rescued at its edge,
preserved as evidence for good, or cause enough
to gain a gallow’s pledge. The moment never comes.
He never has the chance to speak, and breaks

the grave promise he has kept those years. The notes
are thrown away.  His children keep the case
of tools. And silence comes to make amends.
Each scalpel, saw, and knife their only cenotaph.

From a Poland Train

The stench of our train in the darkness.
An angry fire consumes poor coal,
the needles shake and shiver, steam
escapes from worn out valves. We are
delivering, but are no express. I wipe
a gauge: a tear of condensation offends
a tidy footplate. The fireman, who, thanks
to war and careless rostering, I do not
know, leans back, resites his cap.
A tender moment, shovel propped.
His throat is full. Expertly, he rolls
the blackened phlegm and spits
it to the night, then checks the firebox.
Momentarily transfixed, the burst
of light records a figure trapped in hell,
then vanishes with a clang of steel.
On time, I utter. The watch that was
My father’s put away. No matter what
the load, the line’s end, or how long
the wait while other transports clear
the ramp, we will be there as scheduled.
Jews! I hear my father’s voice again, the
pounded Sunday fist, the engineer’s skilled
hand bunched in hatred of a race that killed
his Lord. We have them now. Their stench
is what we trail across this land.
Justice. My father’s hand was hard
enough to beat his sinless sons as well.
We take on water, at some Polish halt
that only needs a decent German name
to make it whole again. I  listen to the
boxcars’ groans, the slow and mournful
songs, the pleas for what I cannot understand.
I thank God I am no sentimental woman,
for you too would weaken at the thought
Of what we do, that must be done.
We do not linger. This final night will take
them to the ramp beyond the arch. Then peace
for them, and rest for us. I’d get this ancient train to
give more speed, and help them on their way
if it was not too old, and only fit for scrap.
We are not cruel. It is for all the best.
This ends in morning, for a world they helped
to make, and which now demands a final sacrifice.