Bound on some skillful retreat,
a long march
north and west;
cut off from the rest
we end up foraging
in some scanty orchard,
the two of us.

I said, comrade, it’s cold
for this season, bitter,
the wind has frozen
the seed in the plum,
the fruit is stiff
as a clotted heart
my blood beats slow
and the ground beneath my feet
seems to weave and thrust
like the deck of a ship.

Who talks like that,
lost on a long march?
A mouthful of sounding words
fraught with portentous gist;
get rid of it. Forget it.
This is not a time
for gaudy language.

Where are we?
Who knows?
How lost we are,
like Hercules in Seneca
in wild despair
at his battered senses,
his dislocation from insanity.

We walked for days;
not even a crust of bread;
my comrade
failing before my eyes.

At the end of the day
at the end of many days
we lay down to rest
on the cold earth.

What were we doing here?
Lost in our reckoning
lost in our quest.

Without us, oblivious,
the army marches on.
What are two lost
among thousands?

Morning came
and he was dead.

I dug a grave for him
slaving in the hard earth
and buried him
as best I could.

He lies forever forgotten
in a land where nothing grows.

But over his grave
the very flowers of hell
could not grow wilder,
more luxuriant
or more fertile with the life
of the deep earth
than exactly here
at this lonely place.

Red flowers blazing,
red banners waving;
the army marches on.

Palinurus of old,
Aeneas’ helmsman,
by a god’s spell
fell fast asleep;
overboard he fell
fighting for his life
in the unquiet sea;
days later
washed ashore
shook off the water
and walked forward, thankful,
thinking to be saved,
only to be slaughtered
by rude folk, left unburied
on some foreign shore.
There’s more to the story
but forget it.

Was your luck better?
Straight up dead
from hunger and deprivation
dead and buried
there you lie;
no glamour or legend
ringing down the ages,
none at all for that.

Still, in my old age
in this unsteady life
nothing more certain
I remember
than the candle
I light for you,
burn for you
every blessed
passing light-
going year.

Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review, The RavensPerch, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and elsewhere. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies. His book, Mark the Dwarf is available on Kindle.