I’ve spent the past few weeks in Normandy.
Passing through the village of Tilly-sur-Seuilles, I stopped off at a small war cemetery, where I came across the following gravestone.
Private Lerner is likely to have died during the struggle to liberate Caen, Normandy and France from fascism.
The majority of the British gravestones bear a religious symbol, indicating the faith of the fallen soldier. Lerner’s does not. Perhaps his family – or Private Lerner himself – believed that the chosen epitaph was a sufficient and appropriate memorial.
Also buried in the same cemetery is the war poet, Keith Douglas.
Can I explain this to you? Your eyes
are entrances the mouths of caves
I issue from wonderful interiors
upon a blessed sea and a fine day,
from inside these caves I look and dream.
Your hair explicable as a waterfall
in some black liquid cooled by legend
fell across my thought in a moment
became a garment I am naked without
lines drawn across through morning and evening.
And in your body each minute I died
moving your thigh could disinter me
from a grave in a distant city:
your breasts deserted by cloth, clothed in twilight
filled me with tears, sweet cups of flesh.
Yes, to touch two fingers made us worlds
stars, waters, promontories, chaos
swooning in elements without form or time
come down through long seas among sea marvels
embracing like survivors in our islands.
This I think happened to us together
though now no shadow of it flickers in your hands
your eyes look down on ordinary streets
If I talk to you I might be a bird
with a message, a dead man, a photograph.