On the Railway of Death
they lay sleepers
underneath rails, lay
themselves to sleep each evening,
as the sun descends.
They are the Romusha.
Torn from their mothers, they
die in unthought of
numbers, from Ban Pong to
Thanbyuzayat the line is
raised with their bones.

And this is testimony.
The artist drawing their wounds,
their sicknesses in the
charnel houses,
their hallucinated wives,
can record the action on a limb
by a Japanese guard,
in a few strokes, give an image
to a blanked out world.

It is sweet. The tree sap
in the jungles. The
moon rearing overhead.
As rock breaks in their hands
nothing, no blow from a rifle,
no bitter dance with disease,
can stop the building
of the line. And this is what,
as their skeletons silhouette
before an ascending sun,
the Romusha tell the artist
to say, as he sharpens up his pen.

(A poem written in response to this week’s theme, ‘Skeletons’. The Romusha were the South East Asian workers who built the Burma Railway during WW2).


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