Sue Vickerman

I remember the deathly silence afterwards,
how flat the land was, a scribble
of poplars, pencil-sketched bushes,
the blank look of a lake in December,
sky like a drawn-down blind
as high and wide as a Suffolk winter

but this was Zarrentin, six hours
before the end of the year;
a muddle of trees, a twisted puzzle
of a root, a leafless bush,
one last red berry in its claw like a pill,

a weekender from Hamburg
power-walking, shattering ice lids
from the tops of puddles; the special issue
dropped from his rucksack
as he sprinted into the distance
before I could call him back,

leaving me with the English princes,
tanks in a line, a lottery-winning family,
a child's distended belly, a soldier's grin

and the nakedness of a tree
lying where it fell beneath the weight
of disused nests, the rotting stomach
of a rowing boat dragged out of the lake
and upturned, the dried-blood smell
of mushrooms on carcasses

and still six hours: it wasn't over yet;
and the sharp, ugly phrases of ducks.