The River

Year: 1944
by Garry Lyle   
 
How was that boy who laughed a-down the river
on glad, unshadowed holidays of peacetime
to see across the years himself returning
from a quiet edge of the western war to find
the river flowing darkly, and no laughter;
to listen while a homesick Yankee sailor
played drunken dreams of ‘Frisco from a broken 
mandolin;
 
and as great clouds switched moonlight from the water,
as bomb-threat scared the houses into darkness,
to watch young ghosts hold meeting on the river, 
ghosts wandered home from Crete and Cyrenaica[1], 
desert and jungle, beach and field and seabed,
talking with terrible soundless lisps of other days
when they were boys and laughed a-down the river
and death seemed not for them.                           
 
                           They could envisage
such aftermath to their swift, singing springtime
no more than could the comrade of their laughter
dream that one evening of a distant summer
he’d silently pace a lightless deck, and feel 
the dark, choking sadness of the river
clutch at his throat, and hear it lapping, lonely:
“It is over… there is nothing…. no returning….
all is ended.”
 

                            Garry Lyle, from Poets at War (1944).

[1] Greek island and Libyan province, the scene of terrible battles in World War II.