End of a War

Stephen Stepanchev

                   Magdeburg, Germany, 8 May 1945

Charred roof-beams and white stones exploded
Block Hitlerplatz now. Its doorways stare black.
Forgotten dolls inhabit the bomb-pocked play yards.
Rail and torn girder twist over the swift Elbe
In this time of shades when only starlight falls.
I sit by the broken river fence and watch,
My helmet off now, my rifle on my knees.

After the beach-head blood and the ambushed track
Deep over sweating miles into public triumph
And more track; after the iron thunder ahead
And bursts from the sky; after the minute’s cruelties,
The cleaving dirt, inner and outer, the boredom,
The wretched gratitude of mobs, and the children
Asking, asking with outstretched, leaflike hands
At all storied crossings of ancient rivers:
Seine, Maas, and Rhine; after that journey,
I sit here warm watching shadows on the Elbe,
No foe now scouting westwards from the east.

Tonight the gross world pauses, and that pair,
Good and evil, the frailest of relatives!
No longer stirs this confused mind that killed,
Raped and looted. Tonight is an end.

Tonight the Poles dance polkas in their camps,
The Russian shout toasts, the French sing ballads,
The Dutch and the Belgian tell stories and laugh.

Ah how that music lilts and the ballad weaves
Joy over rubble, the Wehrmact hospital, all!
Our others cry, “Sunshine, you are my sun…”

From here the rich sounds scatter on velvet paths;
An accordion rippling gayety over the hill
Brings German music, too, to this ending night.

Source: Poetry Foundation. About the autthor. Image: © N/A; Pinterest
AWIP: http://www.a-w-i-p.com/index.php/poetry/2023/01/31/title-170


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