BY THE GATE
The cloaked man waiting by the gate
Shivers in the warming day
The planned arrival’s running late
West wind drives the clouds away
The cloaked man taps his booted feet
Fumbles out a stained small case,
Stares at a photo; fingers beat
On holster; silence in his face
A movement down the uneven road
Pulls him to a straighter stance
The guards decant the expected load
Through the gate the groups advance
The gate is shut. He has to wait,
Hears a skylark in the sky.
The man’s gone through another gate
And like the load, begins to die.
My primary thought about this is that this is a German soldier standing guard when a group of civilians (Jews? Partisans? Villagers dying because a soldier was shot nearby?) are taken to their deaths. However, he could be a soldier or policeman of many other nationalities and causes, and only a few relatively inconsequential details (photo, holster, the implication that the “load” has been “decanted” from a lorry) prevent it being a picture of something happening in some ancient empire. It could be happening in Syria now.
The soldier, like many, cherishes reminders of family, home and loved ones. He has walled off his mind from the suffering of the condemned people. The poem suggests that this means a kind of progressive death – of mind and spirit.
Copyright Simon Banks 2012