From The War Years by Samuel Mercier

Part Three: Keep Singing Vera Lynn

Even more beautiful than the rubble
you will be the flame
that would have been put to the newspaper

in the counterpoint of bombs
i will go right up to you
your lips will have the color
of sand mixed with blood

the forgotten dead leaves of winter
will snap apart with the sound
of bodies falling from a skyscraper

and i will take your hand

like you would grab a flag
rippling in the wind



the sheets fold back on themselves
surface of the desert whose dust is lifted
in the noise of the blades

in the distance the shadow cast
floats under the dunes
like trees bleached by the sea

vague allusion to death
of what we could otherwise imagine to be
skin gone slack

when the loose weave of the sand
gives away the shape
of the last shooter

we must learn though

despite the intoxicating odor of the cartridges
and the delicacy of the fallen figure

we must learn

to find
in his deepest hiding places
the contours of the enemy within



the trains fall from bridges
like in a poem
forgotten by all
or nearly all

in any case it is too late
to talk poetry

for a long while the overpasses
have ceased to convey the dead

yet they are there somewhere
drying before the afternoon program

and even if the concrete cracks
under the weight of refrigerated trucks
we must now think

of transporting the essential



in the suburbs sleep former dictators
we find them in the morning wearing tank tops
drinking coffee or reading the newspaper

they know that history
won’t come looking for them

the straight and orderly rows of alleys are like a piano
on which children play without getting older

the road is well-paved
the trees always flowering

death can take
no further the shit and cesspits
no further the bullets and walls

the clock hands fall off in the wind
you have to cross the room to get to the fridge
and rediscover the morning light
the scent of the fallen clock hands
pervades like a carpet of evergreen needles

time is carrion and the lawn is so beautiful
when it has the length of a pinky finger



when all the coves
have been swallowed
nothing will remain
of these past moments
from hospital room
to hospital room

like always, all is well

they published the face
of the terrorists in the newspaper

the memorial monument
is in the middle of a parking lot
where you meet no one but old men
and more old men

who then planted
the white crosses
alongside the roads

that will later watch over
the unknown soldiers



she told herself that
the crazy shooters
never targeted

you must know how to taste
the sudden peace

in the quiet coolness
of the meat department



you walk through a corridor
enveloped by institutional lighting
a surrounding green halo
from suspended ceilings

beneath your steps the sappers keep busy

you will go to the very end
without ever feeling
the emptiness

yet they dig under your desk
they dig under the dance floor
and under the coffee table
under your bed and under your garden
under your television and the cat’s bowl
under the cafeteria and the tapas bar

they dig
under each destination vacation
and under each quality time

night and day they dig
until it makes them forget
to set the landmines



a girl held her teeth
in her hands
like the pearls
of a broken necklace

yet even without her teeth
she was beautiful
in the unbreathable air
of Victoriaville

someone had carefully placed
pots of flowers
along the boulevard median

despite the gas
and the nervous flight
of helicopters
despite the shields
and the sound of rubber
bullets that pierced the crowd
everything stood still

from Walmart to lampposts
from Tim Hortons to the burst of geraniums
planted there by a depressed urbanist

while the dream of rioters
fell between the white lines
like enamel outlined
on asphalt



spring no longer exists
and the room is our secret base
from where we pilot our drones

a jail where torturers hide

the last fortified camp
of forgotten campaigns
deep in shapeless country
where even the blood has no smell

a television left on shows
tanks driving down Sebastopol

you can hear them
they sing

our enemies will disappear
like dew in the sun
our enemies will disappear and

we no longer truly know
what comes next
or who is not
the enemy

we will go to the edge of cracked roads
where lie the carcasses of cars

there the children have teeth
like nail polish

they live under tin roofs
and go out at night
to burn their trash

in the smell of plastic
the sky will be the color of a wolfhound
and we will finally see what’s left of the stars

like others go to the air pageant
in the hope of seeing a plane



we will be savages
eat all the birds in the sky
add mistakes to the newspaper

smash the school windows
to make ourselves living necklaces
with the class hamsters

we will burn the Olympic stadium
steal others’ dogs
to make our army

warm in the woven fabric of radars

while the planes
disappear in mid-flight

Part Four: Suite for Bomber Harris

they say that under the ruins of Hamburg
life was everywhere

amidst the buzzing of flies
rats as big as dogs
finally emerged from the rubble

next came the wheatgrass the brambles
and the flowers

more flowers
than you could ever need

how beautiful
the memories of happy wars

in Spinazzola, Richard Hugo dreams
of bombers



high above Villach
covered in smoke from the bombs

his tongue trembles

I do not know how anyone can tremble
above Villach

all I can remember
is a terrace on the Drava

with Austrian tourists


years earlier
i see myself

in the bookstore
at the mall
an old man explains

how he campaigned
in Europe and abroad

with fear in his gut
and the light from explosions
to warm himself

i know
he did not speak to me
about light


in the low point of my war years I think of you
Bomber Harris

of you and the song that said
we would burn them all

I think of you
through the prolongation of buried wars

while we drink and drink
brushing death seated at the table
who makes sweet eyes
at a girl
whose name I forget

I would like to think that she lays dormant in us all
like the plague at the bottom of drawers

when everything is insolvent
and poems
speak only
of poetry

for you Bomber Harris
for those who will follow

the world will need it to dig up the bodies

even if we have rejected everything to the limits and beyond
until the death toll
is no longer known

for you Bomber Harris
even if forests grow over our aerodromes

we will burn whole villages
and dance on their ashes
we will poke out the eyes of girl-mothers
close our doors to the dreadful

for you Bomber Harris
even on rainy days
we will seek what we dream

this brings me back to Villach
where there was something else
other than Austrian tourists

i know I always lie for you
Bomber Harris

when the ruin, completed
by braids of wisteria
brings me back to the Drava terrace
and the eyes of a Polish woman

I know I always lie for you
Bomber Harris

there was no wisteria
just a Polish woman, and even then


the world burns
and I squeeze my eyes shut
until my face is wracked with tension

for you Bomber Harris
for your sons for your brothers for your dogs
for all that you might invoke
in the moments of pomp

even if there is no rhyme nor reason
for neither words nor bombs

for you Bomber Harris
despite rats and flies
despite death and old men

we have to forget

even everything, including the weight of numbers


Samuel Mercier

Samuel Mercier was born in Rivière-du-Loup, Eastern Québec, in 1986. He started publishing poetry online with Poème Sale, and has since been published in Nouveau Projet, ArtPress, Spirale, and elsewhere. He holds a BA in literature from Université de Montréal (he also studied at the Sorbonne during his baccalaureate) and an MA in French literature from Université de Montréal, and he is currently finishing a PhD at the UQAM while teaching classes there and at the Ahuntsic Cegep. The War Years, his first collection, was published in 2014 with l’Hexagone.

Virginia Konchan

Virginia Konchan is the author of the chapbook Vox Populi (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Republic, and Boston Review, and her translations, in Asymptote and Circumference. She is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, and Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly.

Les années de guerre. Copyright (c) Les Éditions de l'Hexagone, 2014. English translation copyright (c) Virginia Konchan, 2017.