After Zbigniew Herbert’s ‘Five Men’
These have no faces, till the hessian sacks
are pulled off—then, suddenly, naked air
invades their senses. Dawn. Their hands are cuffed.
Once the white, stainless glove has struck the hour,
they jerk and dance and, with each fresh report,
their limbs become more wooden, till they slump
in shadows of the riddled wall. They fall
together in a line—each tilted head
that angles for a song revolving, just
out of earshot, on a gramophone,
and distant, melancholy gaze that seems
to scan some line of verse heard in a dream—
caught in the spotlight of the sun, and numb
to the applause of startled morning birds.
They lie at the bottom of the silent wall,
beyond the balm and tyranny of words,
limp as abandoned marionettes. Their last
and most authentic act recedes; only
to linger in the acrid powder smell’s
brief accusation that disturbs the flared,
animal nostrils of the uniforms.