Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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Alphabet of Barbed Wire
from Alphabets of Desire and Sorrow: A Book of Imaginary Colophons

On Palermo’s beach, Edward Tanner, corporal in His Majesty’s expeditionary forces, saw wire growing like nettles in the Sicilian sun, from whose barbs English dead men hung until night could rescue them from the long day’s pitiless light. Demobbed in June, 1944, after the fall of Rome to the Allies, Tanner returned to his old life as a motorman in the London Underground where he sometimes heard in the tunnel’s darkness a distant groan of heavy guns across the Tyrrhenian Sea and, remoter still—like the basso continuo in Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater—cries of the Ostrogoths slaughtered by Belisarius, general of the Byzantines. Tanner, who had written home scarcely a line during the entire Italian campaign, was fined for defacing public property with what he called “death sentences”—a graffiti resembling strands of barbed wire.  

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