In Time of War

And so we stayed, night after night awake

until the moon fell behind the blackened cypress,

and bats returned to their caverns having gorged

on the night air, and all remained still until the hour

of rising, when the headless woman was no longer seen

nor a ghostly drum heard, nor anyone taking

the form of mist or a fiddler, and the box never opened

by itself, nor were there whispers or other sounds, no rustling

dress or pet ape trapped in a secret passage, but there was

labored breathing, and unseen hands leafing through

the pages of a visitor’s book, and above the ruins a girl

in white lace, and five or more candles floating,

and someone did see a white dog bound into a nearby

wood, but there were neither bagpipes nor smiling skull,

no skeletons piled in the oubliette, and there was,

as it turned out, no yellow monkey, no blood

leaking from a slit throat, and no one saw

a woman carrying the severed head,

but there were children standing on their own

graves and there was the distant rumble of cannon.

From In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché, published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Forché.