Author’s Note: “The history of the human race sadly seems also to be the history of warfare. In this poem I imagine what it would be like to be living on the edge of a war zone as fighting starts to break out, as is happening right now in Ukraine. The character in my poem is someone who lives, as I do, a secluded life in the country. He is perhaps Japanese; he is a sort of hermit.”
At the Edge
As he feeds his chickens, cooks rice,
aaaaaaassweeps out the shack,
ahe hears the droning of enemy planes.
He lies dreaming of temples and waterfalls
aaaaaaasaaaaaaasand wakes to
the thwack-thwack-thwack of helicopter blades.
aaaComes the thud of a mortar,
the man fills a thermos, latches his door,
and creeps up the slope in moon-dark,
aaaaaaasaaaaahis dog sticking close.
aaaaaaaUp near the top of the ridge,
the dog makes a low sound in her throat,
aaaaaasmelling before he does, diesel,
aathe unwashed bodies of soldiers,
aaaaaaasthe stink of hastily dug latrines.
His dog sneezes, and he clamps his hand
aaaaaaasaaaaaaover her nose.
I can evade them, he thinks.
aaaaaaasaaI can survive out here,
aI know how to hide.
But what of the town-dwellers?
What of the scholars,
aawhose knowledge they want to erase,
aaaaaaaswhose books they will burn?
What of the women
aaaaaaaswho live alone on farms?
The clanking of tank treads,
the rising dust of an army on the move.
Dawn must be
aaaaaaascloser than he has
allowed himself to understand.
Richard Tillinghast’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, Paris Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of twelve books of poetry and five of creative non-fiction. His thirteenth book of poetry, Blue If Only I Could Tell You, is forthcoming in 2022 (White Pine Press). He has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, the British Council, and the Irish Arts Council. A native of Memphis, he has lived in Ireland and now divides his time between Hawaii and Sewanee, Tennessee.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new prose and poetry selected from thousands of submissions. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, the literary journal is nonprofit and independent. Financial support comes from sales, tax-deductible contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.
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