Davies, Hilary

England, (b.1954)

The Prisoner of Katyn

  1. “I have no interest now in what goes on outside:
  2. After forty years you build your hell or palace
  3. From the sticks they give you. I have only these
  4. And they determine what manner of house I live in.
  5. It is like this: always early morning,
  6. And there are many pigs about me –
  7. I was taking them to look for acorns in the wood.
  8. I loved my pigs, had given each one a nickname,
  9. Knew where each had a wart or strange knot in the hide
  10. That you could put your thumb in like a fingerprint.
  11. Some had just littered, and there was one of which
  12. I was fondest, a small female, marbled black and gold.
  13. That morning she ran just ahead of me, enjoying
  14. The cool berries: it was the first time she had run free,
  15. And she pushed at the dead leaves, the cold earth,
  16. With her tiny snout. All around us the mists coiled
  17. Like wood nymphs turning the trees to ghosts
  18. With their long embraces; the hogs were centaurs
  19. In an enchanted wood.
  20.  
  21. And then, in ones and twos,
  22. The cries started: through the pale O of the glades
  23. This squealing of a stuck boar coming closer and closer
  24. Till on all sides burst out of the silence running men,
  25. Their mouths round and red as apples as they went down,
  26. My pigs in a welter amongst them screaming and bolting
  27. Into the executioners’ rifles. When it was finished,
  28. We heaved them together into the dug earth,
  29. Watched their bodies curl like sticks of incense
  30. In the milky air. Dead leaves were shovelled over
  31. To make it new.
  32.  
  33. These were the last things that I saw outside;
  34. Through these last windows I count each twig
  35. And chart which way the first man blundered,
  36. I recompose what kind of noise each man made when he died.
  37. This is the house I walk in: it is always morning
  38. And I am driving pigs into the spellbound wood.”

© Hilary Davies. The Shanghai Owner of the Bonsai Shop. London: Enitharmon (1991).

Editor’s Note:

The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940.

The number of victims is estimated at about 20,000 to 22,000. The victims were murdered in the Katyn Forest, 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia and in the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons and elsewhere. The official document that approved the massacre was signed by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin.

Of the total killed, about 8,000 were Polish military officers taken prisoner during the Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, with the remainder were Polish intelligentsia which included gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, political officials and priests.

About the Poet:

Hilary Davies (b.1954) was born in London of Anglo-Welsh parents. She is married to the poet and editor, Sebastian Barker. A Hawthornden fellow, Hilary Davies won the prestigious Eric Gregory Award for Young Poets in 1983 and the Cheltenham/TLS poetry competition. Hilary Davies co-edited Argo poetry magazine for ten years with David Constantine and was guest editor for the women’s issue of Aquarius.

Davies also taught French and German for many years at secondary school, and has worked as a tutor in creative writing, lecturer in English linguistics and TEFL teacher. She was Chairman of the Poetry Society 1992-3 and Head of Languages at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in London 1992-2011.

Her poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies in Great Britain and abroad and she has judged several poetry competitions. She is also a translator and reviewer. In 2012 she will be Royal Literary Fund Fellow in the graduate programme in King’s College, London. Her books include: Imperium (Enitharmon, 2005), In a Valley of This Restless Mind (Enitharmon, 1997) and The Shanghai Owner of the Bonsai Shop (Enitharmon, 1991). [DES-07/12]

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