snow accrues on a marble headstone - silently
“We didn’t choose this place to rest our bones.
“Were we free, you’d elsewhere find our stones.
“Visit us, you must, in this eerie home,
“Just please don’t leave us here alone.”
If you are wondering why it looks likes there’s an outline of a tennis court in the middle of this cemetery and war memorial, it’s because that’s what was there when the Japanese were assaulting British – Indian forces back during the Second World War.
Japan reached the end of line in its advance to the west in Northeastern India. Both Kohima in Nagaland and Imphal in Manipur have substantial war cemeteries. This is the one in Imphal. The graves are largely English names with crosses or Indian names with Hindi writing, but there are a few others of note. There are several unknown soldier graves, and a fair number of Muslim graves. There are also laborers who got only one name put on their grave, and–in the case below–the grave of a Chinese soldier.
It was a confusing time because many Indians were serving with the British to fight the Japanese, but other Indians were fighting Britain and trying to ally with Japan.
At a military cemetery like this one, a poem always plays in my mind. It was the first poem I ever memorized in full (not including snippets of some disturbing mandatory children’s poems like “Ring Around the Rosie” [said to be about the Black Death] and–in Indiana–“The Little Orphan Annie” [about an enslaved orphan threatened with goblins.])
At any rate, the poem in question is In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. Sadly, I chose to memorize this poem for a school assignment of poetry recitation because it seemed short and it rhymed. However, in many subsequent re-readings it has become a very powerful bit of verse for me. It may not be perfectly apropos for Independence Day as it was written by a Canadian and is about an entirely different war. However, in some sense it’s about all wars and one motive that drives soldiers of free nations to fight them.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.