Monday, 1 February 2010

Ghost road to Berlin.

Dominic asked us to post this morning a piece of flash fiction or a poem after listening to a piece of music. My hearing is such that I cannot hear music well, so I chose instead to write using the title as a prompt. Speaking to him about this on Saturday morning, I realise that what he wanted to ascertain was whether after listening to the same music we would write totally different things - or would there be a connection. Thinking about this, I would guess there would need to be a piece of music without a title because otherwise surely the title would influence our thinking. What do you think?
However, I am posting my piece here - and after it the description of why I wrote it.

Ghost road to Berlin.

It was colder then
and we were hungry
on the Long March.

It was colder then
in January '45.
Sixty miles in three days
and we were hungry.

We sheltered at night
in the barns,
huddled for warmth,
our boots
frozen to our feet.
It was colder then
and we were hungry.

We left Stalag
in a blizzard.
We could hear
the Russian guns.
We would have welcomed them
as comrades.
But we were made to leave,
forced at gun-point
to march in the blizzard.

And we were hungry.
Bread and water given
by the roadside,
comrades shot for
failing to keep up.
All the time the guns
were getting closer.

We wondered if our captors
would decide our fate
because we knew
that they knew
that our captors were winning
on the Ghost road to Berlin.

Sixty years on
Grandfathers, sons and
walk the Ghost road.
The tears flow
for the fallen -
the tears of old men
no longer able to keep that
stiff upper lip.

And the footsteps of the fallen
fall gently on the soft snow
and leave no mark.

In January 1945, as the Russians advanced towards Berlin, the Prisoners of War in Stalag Luft III were force-marched sixty miles in appalling conditions. Two hundred men died on the march, either from exposure or from being shot because they were unable to keep up.
This year, for probably the last time, the survivors who are still living (it gets fewer each year), joined by sons and daughters and grandchildren of the men, re-created the walk, joined by RAF personnel. As in 1945, there was deep snow on the ground.
This 'poem' is mainly put together from things that the old men said when they spoke about it at the start of the walk.


Elisabeth said...

This poem is haunting and sad, Weaver, based as it is on real events, tragic events from the second world war years.

My parents lost their first daughter who was five months old during the Hunger winter of 1945 in Holland.

I was not born then, but the memory of this event is etched onto my mind from the loss of a beloved sister, whom I never came to know except as a five month old baby in a photograph.

The intensity of this years winter in Europe must also stir up memories. Music becomes a powerful trigger to such memories as well.

Thank you for this post and poem, Weaver. For me it is so resonant, for others perhaps even more so.

Dave King said...

Wonderful. Simply told and beautiful in the telling. I agree with Elisabeth: it is haunting. Really beyond comment, but I felt I had to try.

Titus said...

Very terrible in its sadnesss and beauty, Weaver.
I, too, was reading about this recently, and you have turned a piece of history into a haunting (that word again) poem. Really moved me.

steven said...

hello weaver, a deeply sad story well-told in your poem. the echo of dying simply for "not being able to keep up" won't leave me. have a peaceful day. steven

Arija said...

Sorry dear Weaver, I am going to be harsh. This just does not cut the ice. It is without experience, lacking pathos and the inherent dread in the situation. The millions sent to Siberia endured much longer trecks without the hope that an allied army may still save them from their fate.
Walking undr guard in a blizzard with fear in your belly to sustain you is so different to a poem written in a warm kitchen without ever having been there.
Sorry if I hurt your feelings but ...

Heather said...

I love the simplicity of your poem Weaver, yet it evokes a vivid picture of that tragic march. How soft we have become in our safe little lives. I think Dominic is right in thinking that our responses to the same piece of music might be different.

Anonymous said...

This is such a difficult topic
and so very hard to address.
I admire your valiant attempt.
I know that winter was one of horrible dislocation for so many people.
My birthmother, along with the rest of the civilian population of Breslau, left their homes for ever in appalling, bitter cold.on January 21st....never to return as the city was taken over by the Soviets.
I too have tried to imagine this tragic year.

Crafty Green Poet said...

This is very moving and haunting. I've been reading a lot about that period of history recently

Golden West said...

Thank you for remembering them, Weaver , and for reminding us. It's easy to get wrapped up in the present and forget the sacrifices so many have made on our behalf (including your first husband). We sleep safely in our beds at night because of the courage and sacrifices of others who gave been and are willing to serve.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting comments and as always some sad stories. Just to pick up on Arija's comment - of course I am not hurt Arija - I welcome anyone's reaction good or bad. I agree with you that the experience is not there - which is why I used only comments of the old men who were there. I would also agree that this is not poetry, which is why I put "poem" in inverted commas. It is not the kind of subject that I would normally tackle and did it only because it was a given title and I really agree with everything you say about it. However, I would make one point:

Much great poetry has been written without having the experience - I am trying to think on the hoof - certainly "Journey of the Magi" by TS Eliot; "Charge of the Light Brigade" Tennyson - so I don't think it is the fact that I didn't experience it that makes the poem not work for you - it is more that it is not a good poem - and that I would agree with. Thanks for the comments everyone.

Arija said...

Thank you my dear for your kind comment. I agree with you that one does not have to be there and your examples were well chosen.

Our Leicesters have come to Australia via New Zealand and are the prettiest ladies imaginable with their big eyes, mascara around their eyes and black patent leather shoes. They are also very loyal and follow our granddaughter around as though her name were Mary.

Unknown said...

Hello Weaver,

I would argue that it is impossible to find the words to adequately convey such an experience, even for one who has. Your words try and they do so admirably.

Dominic Rivron said...

Good one. I don't think it matters that you borrowed words from those involved - in fact, it adds to it.

Thanks: I'll put a link to it on my blog in my ghost road berlin post.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I am humbled by what many have suffered in their time. I struggle with wonder as to whether I could have made it through. I'm not so sure.

Bovey Belle said...

An evocative piece of work. Something I would not even attempt so well done you. I am more easily daunted!

ChrisJ said...

Wonderful poem. Truly captures the moment. I like that you have used words from those who were there, but I agree that because we don't experience something, doesn't mean we can't write about it -- or even pass judgment on it. One can't experience everything in life. In addition, I wonder what you would call it if you didn't call it a poem. Many poems are written this way today.

Sylvia Ballerini Jewellery said...

Despite not having the experience, your ‘poem’ does convey an image of feelings to which we can all relate, however nowhere near the intensity, not even close – fear, uncertainty, loss, deprivation etc. An empathy of emotions, the difference being that we cannot under any circumstance, even come close to imagining how these people on the road faced each day. I don’t think anyone reading this writing would presume to know or understand the position of these old men. But it is food for thought and makes us realize how precious our freedom and our ability to live peacefully with our neighbours.

Cloudia said...

How excellent, and a fit companion to Friko's post today.

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

sanjeet said...

I never came to know except as a five month old baby in a photograph.
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