Saturday, December 16, 2006

Changi Prison Chapel

The makeshift chapel, the man reads
from the plaque, is a replica,
a diorama of memories.

The seventh pew, where he was bent
double by dysentery, is not
scratched along its seat of lashed

poles, not with a pocket pen-knife
or any flinty implements
found in the flat dirt of the camp.

His fingers brushed the dark unscratched
pew, the wall planks, the altar stand,
like touching glass, hand in a glove.

Pinned to a cork bulletin-board
are handwritten notes on cards
or paper torn out of a journal.

Many wrote their fathers, husbands,
brothers and uncles were here. One
bride-to-be thanked all the soldiers.

Old quarrels. Old injustices.
Older than the altar cross
made from an artillery shell,

that used to promise suffering
cut, turned, beveled and set by love
into a shining salvation.

But let that jagged fragment stand,
he prays, for man’s love for making
do, for man’s makeshift love for man,

for among cholera and lice
someone, a soldier, found something
shiny in the dirt, something sharp,

and made the cross all of a piece.

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