The German boy might be a little nervous,
although he acts as if he’s messed about
in yachts before. He gestures towards the sky,
a little augury about the weather.
“I like to sleep out on the deck.” She finds
a spot for him to throw his sleeping bag.
The bay is full of yachts. On one nearby,
the largest one, the would-be king wakes up.
What was that sound? It’s dark, but he can hear.
There’s nothing but the waves against the hull,
the creaking of the mast. He’s long since learned
the bitter lessons of insomnia.
Out on the deck, all’s as it should be: moon
and stars and harbor lights. Just when he’s sure
he didn’t hear a thing, he sees what’s wrong:
his dinghy’s gone. What was that sound again?
An oar slipped into an oarlock? A splash
of sloppy rowing? The cussing of a thief?
The water’s dark but shimmers with reflections
that confuse him as he stares around the bay,
still a little drunk and half-asleep
despite his anger. He cannot be sure
that is his dinghy over there beside
a yacht that he has never seen before,
but it’s enough to send him down below
to fetch his rifle, always loaded just
for such occasions (though this is the first).
He shouts into the night across the water,
till someone finally steps up to the railing
and shouts back something he can’t understand.
“You’ve got my dinghy, and I want it back!”
Was that a shrug? Was that the only answer
that he was going to get? The would-be king
fires his gun into the night, and kills
that German boy asleep out on the deck
of yet another yacht moored in the harbor.
He wasn’t there the night his son was shot,
so he can only dream of drifting off
out on the deck, his cheek and hair touched by
a nighttime breeze, the stars and harbor lights
vanishing as his eyes fall shut with sleep,
the play of gentle waves against the hull
the last sound that he heard, and not the shot.
How could he have been anything but happy,
a boy out on his own—no, a young man
who must have felt that life could not get better
than such a summer night, who must have dreamed
of sailing on a day untouched by clouds.
Was there a ring around the moon that night?
The father dreams he hovers in the air
between the yachts and sees the bullet fly
through the concentric circles of his shock.
But when he reaches out his hand to catch it,
it flies right through his flesh without a trace,
and from the point the bullet passes through,
the rings spread through his body, guided by
a voice that can be no one’s but his son’s.
And somewhere in his brain a final ring
appears, the bullet’s ultimate effect,
a sign that leads the way to healing trauma.
This vision of the ripples of the bullet
he could not catch, the words he hears that voice
of utter clarity relate, the signs
he finds in every patient’s history,
the meaning of the story of disease
and death, the shock he shared with all of them—
how could it be no one has ever seen
this law as simple as the apple’s fall,
a trace of it in every brain like his?
You just have to believe, and you’ll be healed;
the bullet will pass through your mind and body,
the echo of the shot its only ripple.
Copyright © Andrew Shields 2015
Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His book of poems, “Thomas Hardy Listen To Louis Armstrong”, is being published by Eyewear in June 2015.