Hiding Places

by Jamie Hancock

In the market, fire-flowers bloomed
from gun-metal seeds
and dazzled the streets into
submission

as Papa called us back into the house.
I remember catching his brittle smile
while he wrapped us in his hands
and told us everything would stay the same.

When the red-arm-bands swept past along the roads,
you said that they were soldier-ants
and suddenly they were, in their black lines ready
to sting. We assorted them into species:

the grass-cutter infantry building barriers
with broken paving slabs,
the hissing leathered leader that came
to steal our names for his list.

In the winter, we began to hide
as pilot-men took flight and
emptied their training across the city,
the whole night hesitating

at the winding scream of the shells.
The time ached by, each hour rattling on
like loose panes of glass. When eventually
they stopped, Opa would open the cellar to the sun

and we washed ourselves clean in the morning.
By then, you were quieter,
always picking at your star until Mama
told you to stop.

The next-house had no cellar,
but we still found castles hidden in the gaps
between the other families
to hold our court with wooden-spoon sceptres.

Meanwhile, the new streets were crumbling,
worn-down with years of worry.
They seemed uncertain over
whether they would also disappear.

On that day, the snow had begun to seep
behind old Opa’s eyes
so Papa sent you, the tallest,
to find more fire-wood

and when the blackshirts came hunting, we hid
without you
tucked into the floorboards’ slanting light
below their feet.

By the time we hurried out again
you had dissolved
with only footsteps
in your place