Roman burial chamber, Northern Syria by Rebecca Gethin

In an empty field, rough steps            

lead down to an underworld. Two men                      

slip sideways through the gap

into a reek – sour clothes, urine;


a chill, the ground soft with dust.

One more step and it’s grave-dark.

The thundercracks of shellfire

are muffled, left behind in the daylight.


Smoke smudges the light showing

through the slit. Water drips  –                     

a clicking as of a gun being cocked,

saliva sucked back.  The wind-up torch whirrs        


and strafing the dark its beam snags on

eyes bright with terror –

seven boys in a row, wearing sweat-shirts

and zipped up in anoraks – they sit


cross-legged on a patterned prayer rug         

keeping watch

on the entrance and the steps above.

The torchlight frisks them –


weaponless, hands in their laps.

Just as the men turn to leave              

the eldest boy rises, asking                              

When will our mother come back?


Hiding them in the grave of an earlier war

she’d pressed her hand against her heart

when she touched each boy’s cheek

before leaving them in the dark.

(These boys were found by British journalists in a Roman burial chamber in Idlib Province, Syria. Feb 2013.)

2 thoughts on “Roman burial chamber, Northern Syria by Rebecca Gethin

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