The Harrower
By George Witte

A ditch parts husks of villagers.
Pale bodies heaped for prompt disposal, spent.
A boy approaches, fleeing hell,
suspiciously well-fed
(as commentators later note).
Bright eyes and healthy teeth
suggest the photo’s staged, composite hoax
where past and present tense
elide. What child
could pass through slaughter underanged?
And yet they do;
he did, and we must too.
That’s the path forgetful orphans
take, our parents gone before we knew
enough to harvest memory
against the day such cells
devour themselves. Riding air, we travel
light between this world and theirs,
reluctant guests, malinger
where they were.
___________ That boy:
He lived anonymous, a workingman,
identified through ledger notes
his captors kept meticulous,
each name a number, date, and means
of end. Not one
spared but he, whose record line
concluded blank and left
the question open. Nor when found,
now small-town widowed pensioner
and dogged by press could he recall
who framed and shot his one surviving proof
or where he wandered next or why
he seemed to smile or what,
before, he fed

George Witte‘s books are The Apparitioners, Deniability, and Does She Have a Name? New poems have been published in Hopkins Review, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, and The Yale Review. He lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey.