This poem first appeared in The Wolf, issue 5, December 2003.

Burnt Fish

You remind me of Burma, 1954.
That Japanese soldier,
The last one, alone in the jungle
Who didn't know the war was over.
Who'd fought nine long years
Of war, a private, lonely war,
Nine long years
More than he'd been asked for.
How his blade
Must have swung against
Bark and vine, how his prayers
Must have echoed in his mind.
Who did he think he was fighting?

When they found him,
They said,

He was drinking from a pool
Stooped like a leopard.
He'd forgotten what it was
To be human.
They said
His eyes were dead,
Gleaming in their sockets
Like beetles caught in amber.
But later, in the hospital, he awoke
And asked for burnt fish,
Because the smell of it,
He whispered,
Reminded him of where he'd been,
Reminded him of home.

© Rebecca Root 2003