War Music by Andrew Deloss Eaton


Makassar prison camp, Indonesia (1944)

Though the purity
Of moonlight has silenced
Both nightingale and


i. Ensemble

Then music was whatever moved
between two fences––even boots,

guards speaking in the rain
to one another, wind in chain-link.

Or in the black that wrapped our barracks
what echoed through sleep became far-off

engines starting, then stalling in salt-water.
During work in daylight heat,

even a low song would pass through
a group of men in unison,

an ensemble hidden by their labor,
the religious and the irreligious humming

a hymn or “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”
like song itself was hesitating over them,

then lifting, with no spirit left behind it.
A holding off of the deeper knock of grief

while hands went hacking, cutting to clear
the wood free of all its bamboo staves.


ii. No Trumpet

No flutes in those bands.
No dancers in the men.
Not then. Though some guy
carried one trumpet

mouthpiece he could blow
as if ripping open
a book of griefs,
and through its silver

lips, the phantom
horn resounding
like a chorus
of delighted wives.


iii. The Bow

But it was the bamboo music of the violin
that caught and held me like a nervous fish,
lifted then re-baptized in a new and cleaner

source. From the sound of leaf and cane
thinned as horsehair, drawn across
that jointed body, grassy pitches went up

like ladders in the night around our heads.
And the sound of tongues thrummed
lowly in the dark. The only fiddle player

in the camp would tilt his neck
where we wrapped around him like gauze
in the middle of that bamboo room,

and rock the moon to sleep, gliding the bow
until it pointed past him, the way
I imagine Christ appeared in the boat

showing his disciples to the other side.


Andrew Deloss Eaton was born in San Diego, California and currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland where his wife is from. His poems appear in or are forthcoming from Copper Nickel, Crab Orchard Review, Magma, Narrative and Poetry Ireland Review among other places. His debut pamphlet of poems will be published in 2016.