Massacre of the Innocents

Michael Symmons Roberts

It was just a handful – five or six –
but they spread themselves around us,
hid behind trees, began a sotto voce
incantation made of nonsense:
jingoistic rhymes, unsolvable riddles,
misplaced bits of liturgy.

But rattling as it did off countless boughs
and branches, this whispered cacophony
convinced us that an army
choked the forest. We pictured cities
laid to ruin on the roads from here,
battalions of starving, shattered men.

So we dropped our picks and knives,
knelt down, begged them to spare us.
As they trussed us up, one of them said
his had been a lullaby, then put his lips
up to my ear and sang:
lu lay, lu lay, o little tiny child …