. . Instructions Set in Bone With my own knife, by my own hand, I carve these words in no-man’s-land Upon the skull of my late foe, Who sheltered here some weeks ago. He’d only paused to rest a time, And plug a hole, broad as a dime, Drilled into him from our front line By someone’s rifle—maybe mine. His charge was stopped, his mates turned round. He found a refuge in the ground: The crater of a tenth-ton shell, Within which roils a murky well. He’d bled out then, afraid, alone— No way to part or to atone, Save for a scrap of paper there, Clutched in his fist, the bones laid bare. The ink has long since rinsed away, His wishes lost to rain and spray. They mingle thus with bile and blood, And float atop the pool of mud. Now here I sit in our shared tomb, Half hour or less before my doom. I too was felled, but in my case, These letters shall not be effaced. I set upon his head my blade, And flayed what hadn’t yet decayed, Or what the crows saw fit to spare: Odd bits of scalp and matted hair. I washed his skull with my canteen, And buffed it to a perfect sheen. I’ll etch now my last testament, And strive to make it eloquent. I know not whom this verse will reach, And do not dare opine or preach. No words of mine could much deserve, More than my foe’s, to be preserved. I was a brother and a son, Taught only how to hold a gun, And how to skin a hare or deer Back home, with Pa, in yesteryear. So I’ll write this, and then must go: Should these words reach a wiser foe, Take up your knife—see it’s not dull— And carve your wisdoms in my skull. . . . Claire Nightly, while I lie in bed, Dreaming dreams—though she be dead— Of freckled skin and windswept hair, And all the goodness that was Claire; Throwing round her frame my arms, I embrace her with alarm— My love, you see, slips through my grasp In wisps of flesh and puffs of ash. Though I’m not a maudlin man, Human wonts mean I still can Perceive the sights I used to see: The lilac, lark, and bumblebee; Hear, too, sounds that I once heard: Her gentle laugh, the hummingbird; And smell what once beguiled my nose: Her rain-soaked clothes, the fresh-cut rose. Sights and scents of yesterday Serve me now to ward away Those that take root here today: The dirt, the grave, her sweet decay. To love my love I had agreed A fearsome bargain to concede: ‘Though loss be arduous to assuage, ’Tis but a whit of solitude’s wage.’ Claire, my Claire, though she be dead, Lives yet onward in my head, And in the gifts she left for me: The lilac, lark, and bumblebee. . . Peter Lillios is a previously unpublished poet based in Sound Beach, New York. He is an auditor by profession.