Press » David Howard » Shebang » The carrion flower
   «       1       2       3       4       5    6    7       8       9       10       »   


The carrion flower


Prague & environs 1941–2



Jan Kubis

British-trained Czech paratrooper


Josef Gabcik

British-trained Czech paratrooper


Antonin Sedlacek



Ladislav Vanek

Member of the Czech Underground



Member of the Czech Underground


Dr Stanislav Hruby

General Practitioner


Vaclav Zelenka

Deported Czech (present in spirit)


Bozena Moravcova

Member of the Czech Underground & former neighbour of Vaclav Zelenka


Reinhard Heydrich

SS leader of Occupied Czechoslovakia


Karel Duben

Van Driver


Gusts tussle the perimeter.
Grass insists it be
heard. Boots scuff up
the roots. At least grass has roots.
Under Captain Sustr’s orders
I fill in my will at the airfield.
Who do you leave
a few chipped photographs to? Smile
and sign. My beneficiary will not miss
this identity card—
it bears the name of a stranger.

Four minutes until the
jump. A nor’west wind drifting
snow at nine hundred feet.

As we float over Czechoslovakia
the Halifax will drone Captain Sustr
back to Tangmere canteen.

Three minutes.


Jesus! my balls are rolling up
into my stomach! My teeth
split with each gulp. You,
sky, surely itÕs been a long time since
youÕve been real…

Where are you going, Father? ItÕs still

           Acres of snow sparkling
stars. And the drone of the
           Antonin, come
back to bed!

Even as it touches me I
lose touch with the sleet, tumbling
into landmarks I cannot name. I dangle
one foot, favouring the other
like an arthritic dancer.

Home! God knows where yet
home! I pack
Jan’s ankle with snow, cram
our parachutes under tree roots
and disinter the dead
wood for a fire that radiates
like short wave
through our bones.

The burden of dreams
ricks my back; my wife kicks.
The sun which lets me be will not
let me be. That tax inspector
Duty removes the goose
eiderdown. Lord, my knees creak
more than these floorboards.
Which is heaviest: my heart my head
my coat? No, the snow
that shrouds two parachutes.

Flake by flake
a tin with a foreign label fills
and footprints disappear as I
scatter forage for the game
alongside the unworked quarry.
A few birches struggle
Amongst loose stone. The strongest?
Uprooted—like those compatriots
stoking their fire on windfalls.
Even as I try to wave my hand turns
in on itself. Be strong, Antonin,
the life-line is long. There’s no time
for anything less than the best
             Good morning
boys, I saw you
fall with the sky…


In Piskacek’s field a crow caws.
I won’t shoot it: there are crows
and crows. What matters?
Potatoes, wheat. Those two
men resting in my barn—
let them shoot the crow.

Are you certain they’re not German
agent provocateurs?
Every document has its odour—
flick through their papers,
sniff your fingers: Stapelia hirsuta ,
the carrion flower
Heydrich’s wife cultivates then
beheads with her riding crop.

Remember Doctor Hruby’s words
when Frantisek spluttered
into another world?
Angels of Death are still
angels. There’s no need to hold
your breath like
a Baroque statue on Charles Bridge.


Put it down and the foot
spins your head.
                  Don’t hyperventilate,
tightening your guts
under the metal Christ
who tightens his guts
under the metal sky….
His loin cloth is not your prayer shawl.

My visions are anything but
religious. Feverish,
I shiver with the tulips
in my dreams. Their black soil
clings to my fingers, bringing
         Yes, it’s ridiculous.
I must count the ducks on the river with the days
hug the wall that feels nothing, chucking
stones instead of bread.

A Bohemian should move freely
even though his mind is set
like a bone. Let’s get you to a doctor.


My shoulders slump
under the weight of names.
False, I must forget
the possibility of a day
free from identity papers.
Wolf Brohn’s gilded Christ
overseeing faithless overseers,
the faithless colour that irritates
as it saves the skin of a minor official—
they’re no more ridiculous than the names
in my coded diary, a diary by no one
in particular.

It is wrong to spit out a name
like a split tooth. A name
frustrates the statistician. To say
Jan is to hear your Byronic step,
to smell your breath, to remember
the boy launching his soapbox
downhill, cornering on two wheels
as his distraught mother called
Jan! In Paolo della Stella’s reliefs
for the arcade spandrels of the Summer Palace
an armour-bearer attends a boar-hunt:
What is his name? We need to know
before we can feel the blister
on his instep. And which names
echo in the head of this pregnant girl
swinging past us? Her belly holds
all the angels of the day
except Death.
         Your limp is worse. Stretch
out on the grass of the Royal Garden: here
Tycho Brae and Johannes Kepler
stared at the heavens. Look
hard, the clouds darken. A staff-car shakes
the earth your nameless friends turn
into. God has fair hair
and his blue eyes show no mercy: they don’
sparkle like yellow stars.
children will play among bodies
covered with foreign newspapers;
they’ll discover the louse is not like a man—
it will not suck up every last drop of blood.

So many nonentities
With symptoms! They diagnose
my helplessness. Murmuring Of course
I prescribe liniment for sciatica.
Illness is a borish form of expression.
More exercise. A cold bath
before breakfast. Next. Piskacek
edges in with a stranger
at his shoulder: My friend has
dislocated his big toe. Palpate
instep and sole. No bones
broken. Poultices. A referral
to colleagues at Prague-Karlin Insurance
for work papers that slide
behind the pistol in his hip pocket.
Two sickness certificates: Josef Strnad
duodenal ulcer; Frantisek Prochazk
inflammation of the gall bladder.
– In this way I wriggle
through the days on my hands
and knees, another nonentity


















In school wrinkled children sing
out-of-tune. Truant, I play
hide-and-seek with the day outside
St Cyril & St Methodius
in Resslova Street. A policeman beats
his pigskin drum.
                           Mama wakes me.
SS splinter our door inspect
hair and eye colour tighten
strings with numbers
around our necks. Soon I’ll sleep
under an eiderdown of lice;
Mama will not recognise me by these scars:
one is not for the Father
one is not for the Son
one is not for the Holy Ghost.

I used to hum Hussite hymns
while neighbours scraped paint
off the stairs with their coffins. Then
Vaclav was taken. Now
my history folds up
like an accordian.
                  This bird
hidden in my ribcage—
it will not sing. I finger
postcards from foreign cities
but the bird barely stirs. I soak
the mottled shawl Vaclav used
to snore under: the bird
drops one feather
into my guts. I must cut it
out. Where is the paring knife?
Left near the wailing wall.

You wring out the shawl
with two black stripes: it
drips on the
dripping tap.
         God, it’s hot.
Your shawl will dry with the skin
on the back of a Rabbi’s hand,
with the blood
under Heydrich’s door.
                           Your bird will sing.







Except death. With you
sentimental and brutal are synonymous;
blood’s the source material for biographers
Reinhard (‘wise in counsel’) Heydrich.
That immaculate devil in black leather
Goebbels cautions against the points of stars
on the skyline of the Reich, decrying
‘phrase-making by bourgeois intellectuals
that the Jew is human’. But you
attend to the Chosen with closed freight-cars
and assert: ‘As a National Socialist
I am a Zionist.’

The eastern territories are partly inhabited by Slavs, and in these territories it must be understood that all acts of goodwill are interpreted as weakness. The Slav does not like being treated on an equal footing and he is not used to having his masters descend to his level. The effect of the final solution must be as follows: this entire area will one day be definitively German, and the Czechs have nothing to expect here….







I stride along
and my tempo is the tempo of all
my side of the whole street,
of the whole quarter.
Mine is the responsibility,
and rightly so,
for all the raps on doors….

All the raps on doors
at four in the morning! I
unhook the black curtain, push
out to a horizon of headlights.
Tonight the tables of the Law
flatten the rooftops of the Ghetto.
From block to block
lorries pick up shocked survivors
thin as the symbols in an allegory
no body wants to believe.
The drone of motors shakes the stones
on the road, breaks the stone
in my throat: Eli, Eli….


On V. Holesovickach Street
no body laughs. A cyclist spins
out of a dark yard,
a schoolgirl hurtles
around a darker corner,
an old woman dodders
off on off the footpath.
                  Even as things turn
they are fixed. Like the stars
we are in position
as Reinhard Heydrich’s Mercedes idles
into a history even more pitiless than he is.

Reichsprotektor, you were manufactured
as a helpmate for the Angels of Death.
Impartial, they will
redistribute your parts. It is written
in the eyes of Rabbis,
on the skin of orphans.

let every lover
let every democrat
let every Gipsy
let every Czech
rake the air with a Sten gun
slake the gutter with Gestapo blood

let every mother
let every Bolshevik
let every Jew
let every Czech
stun the Reich with one bomb
run down the horizon

now now now
one splinter for his thoracic cage
one splinter for his diaphragm
one splinter for his spleen

now now now
one is not for the Father
one is not for the Son
one is not for the Holy Ghost

There was a staff-car
on the kerb. I stopped my Zetka:
‘What’s up?’
         ‘Herr Protektor’s hurt,
hurry to Bulkova Hospital.’
Just my fucking luck!
He was delirious tumbling
through the hole in his own back
swallowing bomb splinters.
I set him on his stomach
among the crates of wax
and the tins of polish. Precious
slow. In my head I heard
the last rites a hundred times
for my countrymen smelt
the carrion flower smiled
like an undertaker: Heydrich was


Now I am
a man without
wonder. From the first
gutted noon I knew
your face….
I did not kill to be
alone; I did not kill
from envy. My eyes
turned from the sleeping
virgin, your world.
And I dug this ditch:
every memory
in. Now, help me

1983, South Karori Road/March 1984, Clifton Terrace, Wellington/12.6 – 2.9.1991 Cathedral Square, Christchurch


 « contents » 
© Copyright 2024 David Howard & Trout.