IN FROM THE COUNTRY

Here, you!  Yes, you, bumpkin!
I didn’t understand.
I was caught in the crowd
watching the prisoners stumbling past
with crossbeams on their backs,
shuffling toward the hill
where they’d be hung.
The soldier hauled me
out of the crowd and lifted
the beam from the back
of the smallest man
and set it hard on me.
Carry this for him.
I was afraid.
The little man looked at me.
There was blood drying
around his eyes.  He spoke
to me, a whisper through ruined lips.
Please.  I cannot do it alone.
The weight of the thing was terrible,
and I’m the strongest man I know.
It was as if all the world was in that beam
and the world was burning.
Then the little man took my hand.
I thought of my mother at home
feeding the orphan lambs
and my father pruning the vines.
Women laughing at the well,
children playing in the street,
the old men sitting in the shade.
We walked to the hill
and they took it off me
and tied him to it
and hung him up
and he died.
I still don’t understand.

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