Bill Burtis

Photo from Kyiv

This is not the flag we want to see, white plume,

streaked with red, drooping above the rubble

from the blackened building. It is suitable

these days for a surrender, perhaps of a Red Cross. We’re afraid

it’s a bloody sheet but then we see it’s a blanket or quilt

waving slightly in the golden light of the spring evening.

In truth, it is a crochet, bleached white by overexposure

in the news photo, hand made for an old man

by a daughter-in-law, bearing the colors of his favorite

football club, not a serviceable image for a war poem.


Often inside a window there will be a person. And inside

the window that was in the wall that has been blown

out of the side of the building where the blanket hangs

there was a small table, a lamp, beside a couch

where a grandfather liked to nap in the late afternoon sun

that came in the window. In winter, he’d pull the blanket

his daughter wove for him off the back of the couch

and spread it over his cold feet and old legs. The couch is visible,

perched, as if waiting, at the broken edge of oblivion.


There was the sound of an old man sleeping, the air

moving through him. Then the whistle of something moving

through air. The old man did not wake, did not move,

but pieces of things moved inside him, tearing through bone

and tissue, tendon and blood and his dream ended. Now he is

missed, mourned, and the sorrow pours from his aged wife,

his son and daughter-in-law, his grandchildren who want

to know where he is and wonder if he flew out where

the wall once was. What does the old man’s son tell them?


The tears go on and on. The anger rages, like fire, rises

and falls, but it is there, every day, dragged through them

like the scouring of hunger, the strain of thirst, the clench

of fear that does not go away day on day on day. Some

go out, pick up the weapons of death and some wish for it

in the horror of war, the loss, the pain, the missing.


Do not speak to me of death, the easy word. We wrap it around us,

tight across our shoulders, clutching certainty. Against horror

we throw money, shout wishes, blow kisses, know nothing.