‘Keep going, men! Go on! Go on!’
The snow carried his caws to us,
the snow was all to see.
The snow stretched our eyes from lid
to lid, the snow
cased us up to the knee.
‘Keep going, boys! Go on! Go on!’
A man panted next to me–
a man tore into my sleeve.
his hand loosened–
it was gone–
I stopped in the snow, and called
out his name, and dug through the white
with my half-frozen hands, but the man
never cried again.
‘Keep on, my friends, keep on! Keep on.’
Struggling to stand, I stared at the spot
but white was all to see. At the place
where his hand had clutched
to the last, the cold stabbed
through holes in my sleeve.
Then, there, just under
and the moan, faltering, froze
to the bone:
‘Keep on, good men– keep on– keep on.’
Through the pain in my head
and the pain in my legs, and the poison
sleep easing each, I
kept on– I kept on.
For a time I can’t tell, and no distance
I know, I forced through the world in a trance. Oh,
the demon wind whistled, and creaked, and it
groaned, and sky broke in two
And no more did I hear, ‘Keep on– keep on.’
Who was there left? Who can say?
Who can say? I’ll never
be able to say.
But, then, though I tried to go on, though I fought
for the breath in my burnt-up lungs, I knew
I would die– I would die.
And the sleep stole me over, the sleep
won me over, and I lay on my back
in the snow, and the snow
caved in to cover my head, and I breathed
in the god of my tomb.
I heard a flute playing, note by note,
I heard the notes of a nursery rhyme.
Snow melted from my lifted face, and
beauty crept in at the edge of pain,
and a woman smiled at me.
Such a woman I’ve never seen.
She was naked in that storm and strife,
and her skin was such a blinding white,
it blended into the snow. Her long
black hair was loose,
and wild, and her eyes and lips
were blue as ice, and this beauty
smiled at me.
‘If I were cruel,’ she said, then, sweet,
‘I’d take you like those other men, and you’d never
never leave. But– what
a pity– what
a pity– to steal
such a pretty young boy.’
She touched my lips with one thin hand, and warmth burst
in, and she leaned close to chime and keen:
‘If you should ever tell of this, to
any live thing, man or beast,
I’ll come and snatch you to me.’
And she left me there on the cold hard ground,
then she left me without a sound.
Then she left me right there on the ground.
Now I’ve told–
I’ve told, I’ve told–
and now, she’ll come for me–