September has always felt like a time of
beginnings and ends, of arrivals and departures.
And, naturally, it’s a new season – the start of autumn.
At the same time, it's a time of endings. The end of the long summer break, of holidays and freedom; the end of what one’s got used to, of whole patterns of living. Now is the time to pack stuff away, to decide how to leave things and – if away – to go home. The end of summer, no less.
My poem focuses on departure – an imagined departure, in a very specific context.
The Officers’ Mess at Theresienstadt
The curtains still hang there half drawn
since they left in a hurry that morning.
Everything else they took with them –
the gramophone, records, and group
carved crests of the regiments painted on
leaving their various shadows. And the pictures –
those views of the mountains, that Jaeger
the fairy-tale Schloss and yachts on the
Perhaps it was evening when the young
stood up from his packing behind the drawn
to consider his question. Yes, he would leave them.
He turned on his heel. Then returned. Should they be
open or closed? Now there was nothing to see –
nobody inside enjoying companionship
nor anyone outside. Rubbing his back
he decided to leave them there hanging like
I’m not sure in which month these particular
men, who for the most part would have been quite young, found themselves
packing up, but the occasion has a September feel. Whether they left things
until the last minute, or whether they had a bit more time, there would have been
lots of decisions – none actually that important in the circumstances. Really, it didn’t matter if the curtains were
drawn, left covering the windows or not, but for the individual concerned, the
last person to leave, perhaps it became important.
And in a way, so it was. Curtains of course give privacy by stopping people looking in, retain warmth and contribute to a feeling of togetherness. Even protection.
On the other hand, when drawn back,
daylight enters, the inhabitants can see and enjoy the outside world and be
But now everyone had left – no one to see or be seen.
In this instance, this particular moment of
departure, for this young man who'd been lugging packing cases around, a definite end of much more than a season.
Certainly, a wonderful new beginning for those who had been, or were still, outside.