It was dawn when they came to kill us. The bleak sun
of winter was only a whitening of the mist
over the far hills from where they came.
The earliest screams brought others from their houses,
and their cries roused more sleepers out to die.
My mother, who'd gone for water, was one of the first.
Young as I was, I still ran to protect her,
was stabbed in the chest and thigh and fell to earth
as she fell over me: lying there, I felt her
give three desperate gasps, as if the air
could anchor her to life, then breathe no more.
Some instinct made me lie completely quiet,
and since the murderers turned to deal with those
our fight had drawn outdoors, I kept my life,
seeing through the lashes of one eyelid
how neighbors, cousins, friends all died around me.
It all seemed very slow and ordinary:
the killers took their time and liked their work.
Their victims each met death a different way:
some pouring curses out with their life's blood,
some vainly bartering with promised gold,
some weeping childlike tears of acquiescence,
some pleading youth or age or prime of life
as reasons why their case should be exempted,
some numb with horror, some quite mad and laughing.
Their deaths were individual as their lives,
and as identical as all lives' ends.
The raiders left to search for people hiding,
and I crawled out from under my mother's body
and lowered myself into the largest well,
the only one with hand- and foot-holds in it,
fearing that they'd come back, and I was right.
For centuries I heard the further slaughter,
bleeding into the slimy rock I clung to.
Twice I was grazed by bundles tumbling down
to sound the earth's wet heartbeat far below.
I don't remember coming out, but somehow
I was standing in the sunlight watching people
loading the dead for hauling and looking on me
with amazed kindness. They pulled up from my well
the bodies of two children, a boy and a girl,
both with slit throats, the bruises still
livid on the girl's small and hairless sex.
There were inquiries held, of course, but no one punished.
The government blamed the rebels, the rebels the army,
and the army denied it. The rulers had no answers,
the priests had no answers, the poets had no answers.
Only in silent dreams, two naked children,
angelic, unblemished, with grave and luminous eyes,
hold the answers flowering in their hands.