A Kosovan ghost story*

Five fresh graves,
the turf rolled back
to lumpy black earth.
At each head, a stick,
a lopped branch.
This one has taken root.
Be careful where you walk,
the field may be mined.

I can hear children playing somewhere
as children do no matter
what took place last week,
up the green hill
at the compound’s ragged edge
where the military are camped
with their trucks, their tents.

The soldiers speak only
to each other.  They are bored
but forbidden to talk
with the villagers. And which tongue
might sound familiar, safe?
The little girls hold out
handfuls of marigolds,
then smile and run away.

From behind a lime-caulked wall
an old man peers at
the faces of strangers.
The women are hiding indoors.
They stare at each other,
at us, with eyes like dry stones,
forbidding each other to speak.
Where are the young men?

No, there is no-one here
of that name.  In thirty years
I have seen no-one answering
to that description, no children
as in your photographs.
How ordinary the lanes appear,
the mud-built houses, how
ignorant of what has
taken place inside them.

The walls are blank-eyed,
the plaster pocked and stained,
criss-crossed with holes.
Outside the grass says nothing:
the dropped flowers, the molehills,
everything is watching, silent.
The translator insists:  there is
no-one here of that name.

Why do they say that
nothing has happened? Why
do they think we are here, why
are the soldiers encamped at the gates,
the tent-roofs marked with a red cross,
huge, to be seen from the air?
No-one enters the medical compound
to speak of the things that took place.

The women agree without words.
Drawing a shawl round a head
is enough to convey the conversation
has ended.  The translator shrugs.
There is work to be done, mending
the roof, patching the windows,
filtering water.  The animals must be fed.
We are not wanted. We do not understand.

*In patriarchal Muslim villages, a woman raped by an invading army is dishonoured and often shunned by the  men in her family.  Consequently few are willing to admit what has happened, and the true figures can only be guessed at.

Beatrice Garland