The fall

Behind a beaded curtain in the darkness
of the bar the old men sit – thick wine in a tumbler,
black coffee, black bread – pushing the small change
of words back and forth across the cards, the dice

giving the strangers no more than a glance.
We are not included.  There are olive stones
in a little heap on our table which no-one clears.
The television jumps and flickers, monochrome.

Outside there’s a hard frost in the square and sun.
A clear green wash of light across the plane trees
shivers as the birds, all black, wheel upwards:
a thin high bell is striking twelve and no-one

is watching the screen. The scenes change rapidly,
fragments, a foreign tongue.  Then, the way
an orchestra comes together round an A, we hush
and stare. What are they doing?  Across the world

high on a platform, arc-lights strip out the night.
An unshaven man is holding a book, shouting,
shouting a broken language into the shadows
and there is a rope as thick as a woman’s arm

knotted at the ear.  There is shoving, a scuffle.
He vanishes.  Not as a last high leaf lets go,
slips sideways, riding on air, but a lurch and a plunge
and a terrible stop.  We look at one another and away.

Better to look at the floor, the olive stones,
the dice and be silent.  Glad or angry or afraid,
we have attended an execution.  Secret now
the exultation in our own fierce lives, in being alive.

Beatrice Garland