THE DOUBT TRAIN AND THE GIRL BY THE LAKE

The train pulls past rusted girders, ragwort, overgrown
gorse by the buckled fence that drops down
to the hollowed-out factories and empty offices
built just before the last-slump-but-one.

We met when we were travelling to camp by the lake.
She asked if I had come to see where the partisans died.
Out of blame comes bitterness, out of bitterness blame.
At dawn she dived into the water, came out
shivering and laughing. I threw her a towel.

The train inches past a patch of vetch, a sunflower
grey with sediment. An oil drum has leaked its sludge
across the bare earth. We pass a broken sign that
says Emergency Refuge and another that says Way Out.

Now I’m back with her. It’s like this sometimes.
Displacement, exile, do what you will with it.
When I ask where the partisans died
she points at the lake and leans forward,
hugging her knees. I didn’t know them, she says.

Ivy thriving in stagnant water in an old tyre by a wall.
A flattened plastic bag, a smashed umbrella, a shoe.
The sun rises, beats down. Cruelty, we understand that.
Given, taken. The monochrome home movie of the mind.
Lots of blank foreground, she and I out of focus.

The train stops by woodland. Fallen trees,
fresh breakouts after last night’s storm.

She rocks forwards and backwards, looks at me
as if even now I might have some kind of answer.
The history of failure has many volumes.

She takes my hand, holds it to her lips.
Before the lake was flooded, my twin uncles,
master boat-builders, sealed the church
with wood and steel plates, to lock in
the centuries of prayer and worship,
all the voices of those who ever sang there,
the generations of baptisms, weddings, funerals.
Sometimes you can hear the church bell tolling
as it moves with the water, or the lake-bed,
or the planet, or the universe, or the whole
ridiculous history of humanity.

She smiles. Let’s swim.

She wades into the water,
turns to call for me to join her.
I see her eyes, her hair, her body,
feel beneath us the village houses tilting,
shifting, spreading their rumours,
the villagers re-burying the partisans.

Is this my job – to stop a moment in time for you?
The trouble with memories is the glow they have.

She unravelled until she became everything to me.
What does it mean when we say things last.

What we said to each other, our language,
our sound, is half-forgotten.

Words travel from page to page.
Doubt clambers aboard each one.

At the edge of the track children wave.
I look out of the window as if I can see.

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