Quartet for the End of Time

by Gill Learner

by Olivier Messiaen

It seemed that the horsemen
had broken through the seals.
Men scuffed between huts:
snow creaked under clogs
that gnawed their feet;
breath blurred heads,
settled on patched uniforms
wrenched from defeated troops.
When the aurora borealis flushed the Silesian sky
one Frenchman’s faith hardened.
Because there never was enough
black bread or cabbage boiled to rags,
his dreams rang bright as cathedral windows.
He pinned eternity to a stave,
shaped hope in sharps and semiquavers;
shared his vision.
Cracked lips called birdsong from a clarinet;
swollen hands flicked at piano keys
to conjure gongs and trumpets;
fingers barely thawed
stopped strings
as two bows spun prismatic arcs.
Four hundred men
barbed-wired together
fattened on rainbow music.