The image at the end of this poem started me thinking after a visit to the village churchyard in Durnstein, during a cruise on the Danube, and the poem followed a fortnight later.
Wachau vines, embroider meadows beside the Danube, green on green.
The soil that succours them once drank the blood of men
fighting for visions and ambitions not their own.
No time to gather the fallen, beckoned by destiny to another victory afar,
the harvest of death abandoned to the mercy of others
who tended orchard and pasture here, bonded to the land by ancestry and affection,
compassion and hospitality their work of art.
There behind the walled village church,
rising over groomed memorials, greensward and gravel
another sanctuary rises, sparse and simple, a terminus for parting gestures,
while earth is broken open to receive its latest guest and the prayer of those left behind awaiting the resurrection.
Beneath the mourners lies a vault visible from the threshold,
holding in neat dismembered order the bones of thousands,
sojourning here since their last battle.
Anonymous, yet still recognised.
Victims of that unforgotten fateful day.
The humble folk who shouldered the burden of bearing the fallen
to their rest, have no memorial. Striving to re-order their lives,
unwittingly they made this common tomb a place of pilgrimage.
The enclosing porch to this gated realm of present grief and the ancient dead
shelters Christ hanging naked and alone upon His cross, embracing all
His arms fixed eternally by iron, extended there in defiant self-offering.
There, embracing known and unknown alike,
There, inspiring compassion that makes us human
There appealing for all whose death seems to have so little meaning,
from our bleak distant vantage point.
Between His transfixed hand and the wood of sacrifice
a sparrow's nest is perched. An improvised, transient pile of gathered twigs
brings for a season the sound of birth and new life, a mere fragment
of perennial birdsong consoling the shadows cast
by sunlight, by sorrow, by the passage of time.