A dressing up or painting out.
A spray of shoots across a mottled stratagem.
This was the task: with paint and wood and steel
replicate a willow, the one in any no-man’s land
thick-trunked and pollarded. And turn,
in turn, the replica into an eight-foot periscope
where anyone might sit and watch an enemy
slip across a blasted field like murky water.
Or watch the cloud gas billow closer.
(It smelled like hay. So many poisons
smell like hay. Or lilacs. Or geraniums.)
The task? To craft a tree for camouflage
that anyone might climb, and crouch within,
and wait to hear the hand bells ring All Clear—
a momentary, clappered joy, some said, up
from the horizontal belfries of the trenches.
And then the masks came off.
When Alan Turing died from cyanide,
he smelled like burnt almonds. Every organ,
the coroner said, smelled like burnt almonds.
Some need resemblances that tie us to the earth,
a metaphoric dressing up or painting out.
Lilacs, almonds, geraniums, hay. Willow, willow.
Some need the opposite.
Some said the bells were birds—salvation larks.
Some said he simply smelled like smoke.
© Linda Bierds