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For hours we hid behind the false wall
Henrik had constructed in the barn
before he was caught and changed.
Hours of stiff silence, our breathing
soft as daisies in a bowl.
When at last the special detachment
gave up and moved on, firing the house
in a parting gesture of contempt, we loosened
the secret latch and stepped out, new born 
among the dead.

Beyond asking why, we considered God’s absence,
a notion evil in itself, we thought, finally,
and set out with three tins of soup, a blanket, two
loaves of black bread and each other, damaged 
but alive.

Moving by night, steadily
north, it was difficult to avoid the dogs
run wild in packs, the bounty hunters mad
to curry favor with the directorate
charged with mopping up.
Twice, by accident, we led one to the other
and escaped in the dust and screaming.

Through the endless days we hid
in caves and thickets, fighting off or eating
whatever else might live there.
Weeks of this. Luckily
our shoes held up, and patches of snow
could still be found in shaded corners of the heights 
to which we came at last. So we had water.

The rest is as I told you. We came in sight
of the border, dashed across, and so became 
new, faith rising in us again. Joyous and broken, 
we stared at our hands, folded, strangely
unable to pray.


Christopher Howell’s twelfth collection of poems, The Grief of a Happy Life, is forthcoming from the University of Washington Press. He teaches in the MFA program at Eastern Washington University and lives with his family in Spokane.

Read more of Christopher Howell’s work online.

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