A poem by Imogen Forster

Damascus, August 2013
The dead lie in neat rows,
each wrapped in a shroud
bunched above the head,
tied with a thick cord,
their faces exposed
like old John Donne’s in the
engraving made for his monument.

It’s easy to slide away
from the cold fact,
mind-wandering in sudden
recognition, seeing them
as those dusty figures
we passed in some cool cathedral.

But these are not transis,
sinewy, rib-caged versions
of their living selves, stacked
in fancy cadaver-tombs.

These are cadavers, all right,
but not yet decomposed,
not desiccated into
clean, respectable stone.
It’s hot here, and they smell,
lying on the dirty floor,
this father, that mother,
these modestly dead children,
laid out like parcels in a white,
blood-flecked morgue.

Some of their faces are swollen,
gas-gagged, retched out.
Dazed men walk about them,
weeping, searching, mourning.

Are we so mistaken
to reach for those
frightful reminders?
Shrouds are all one,
one then and one now
one here and one there.

I was what you are,
I am what you will be.
These are our own familial dead.
Imogen Forster is a translator, mainly of art history, from French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian. Follow her on Twitter @ForsterImogen, where she publishes short poems, most of them haiku.