Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Song of the Railroad

Photo Source: photos.igougo.com

by Frank Samethini

Twinline of steel, winding through hills, plains and steaming jungle,
resting on a thousand sleepers, the bodies of the perished.

Each dawn the rising red ball of sun
Brings a new day of hunger and pain.
Worn out before the struggle's begun,
Why should we resist further in vain?
Why all this harrowing, insane strife
In what little there is left of life?

In the hot, quivering air a whisper, soft but nudging, pulling.
Listen not to that voice, pay no heed!
"Think, think of those at home, those you love."
Don't submit to this devilish creed.
For, true as there's a heaven above,
If you harden yourself, do not bend,
You might conquer it all in the end.
Pain, gnawing pain in legs and shoulders.
Dig! Dig! Lift that spade, move those boulders.
Beware! Creeping shadow of man, gun,
Watching us under the searing sun.
There! The snarl and the sickening crack
Of rifle butt on a comrade's back.

"Lie down, little brother. Lay yourself down to sleep."
Man, blood dripping from his fingernails,
Tumbles down. "I can no more!" he wails.
Pulled upright he is by Nippon scum.
The judo smack, bursting his eardrum,
Knocks him down and he lies there prostrate
While we're looking on in helpless hate.

"Lie down, little brother. There'll be no more to weep."
Hatred rising in a silent cry
Urges you to fight on, not to die.
But you can dig no more. Rest's needed,
Just for a moment. But, oh my God!
His boot kicks your groin - the flaming pain
Shoots from your belly, knots in your brain.

"Come, listen to me. Hear my sigh riding on the wind."
Rain, in sudden, chilling, lashing squall
Weakens the structure - it starts to fall!
The heavy weight at once snaps the rope,
Half the bridge is plunging down the slope.
Flee, you slaves, run, god-forsaken dogs!
Save yourselves from the thundering logs.

"Heed my whisper. Sink down and give in, my little friend."
A broken rail clangs, the deafening blow
Splintering bone, spattering his brain
On green, wet leaves trembling in the rain.
His costly blood drips on muddy ground.
Again, anger surging without a sound
And the voice, though you're free from its spell.

"Lie down, little brother. Lay yourself down where he fell."
Once more that pitiful bundle, still
Lying between the leaves where he died,
Has shocked you into an iron will
To battle and claw, to kick and bite.
To grit the teeth and stiffen the soul.
To hell with them, damn the enemy!
We'll hang on for that ultimate goal,
To live and reach the Day of Victory.

And so they went, day by day, week by week, month by month,
To the bridge on the River Kwai.
With sullen stubbornness, unyielding to impossible odds,
Struggling on to perish or to do the formidable,
Building the bridge for the twinline of steel
Winding through hills, plains and steaming jungle,
Two hundred and fifty miles long,
Resting on sleepers, resting on the memory of the perished,
Worked to death on the Burma Railroad.