Peter Neil Carroll
The Volunteer

April dawn: a man foreign to the land
jumps out the window of a Normandy farm house.
German soldiers spray him with gunfire—
a bullet lodges in his head.

The breathing body carried away
returns next day as a corpse.
The mortuary reports: five foot eight, 30 years,
brown hair and eyes, origin unknown.

He acquires these details, my orphaned cousin,
late in life, adds them to a small cache
of photos, letters, a presidential citation
and the bruise beneath his ribs
begins again to sob.

What emptiness is, is still so.

Never enough, the obvious motive
that puts aside the fear and parachutes
through the night to drop disguised
into a field of shadowed peas.

He’d found the appointed haven,
fallen asleep in blue silk pyjamas,
so says the once secret file from France—
then a cry at the door.

He throws on a brown shirt and trousers—
and leaps. Better a bullet
than a night of rack and screw.

My cousin understands the weight
of that distant war, but wishes
he didn’t, even as he admires
his father’s lucid choice.