Helen Mort

The Exposed
after Wilfred Owen

We were high, but this was more than just the drag of height –
I saw the known world shelve away from us
and found no name for it. Dawn was a brief chaos of light.
I kept our camera shuttered, hidden in plain sight.
You could say nothing happened.

We were not unsafe. We were rarely unkind.
The ledge was suitable; exactly coffin-wide
and sturdy, stable, table-flat. I put my axes to one side,
breathed in – a salted sharpness keen as lemon rind.
You could say nothing happened.

We were young – it matters now – and competent.
Our feet were shaped for niches, smoothness, grit and dust.
We thought that friction was the same as trust.
We built good anchors, gripped with granite confidence.
You could say nothing happened.

When stonefall scalded through our silence
we were not afraid. It was always somewhere else.
We climbed until we clambered right outside ourselves –
I moved with all my father’s subtle violence.
You could say nothing happened.

At camp, you’d shown me how your camera worked:
the shutter speed, lens aperture, the light reaching the film
and touching it, light fixing everything – the valley’s rim,
the morning and the undone route. Exposure. One word.
You could say nothing happened.

I kept it stashed down in my rucksack half the time,
wrapped in a thermarest, swaddled like a lame bird.
I took no shots. It angered you. You couldn’t find the words
and if you had, I’d have replied what’s yours is mine.
            You could say nothing happened.

Our coldest night, your babbled visions of the news:
our faces beaming from a breakfast TV show.
A test, a triumph…and they said it wouldn’t go!
You reckoned fame was something you could choose.
I said nothing would happen.

There’s something private about falling snow.
I ducked their questions afterwards. Exposed.
I keep your name, a single label from your clothes.
Your heart was weak. How could I know?
I told them nothing happened.

And nothing is repeated every day,
it breaks across closed eyelids, over sleeping chests
and fills the careful places where we planned to rest,
until it finds us, holds us, folds us carefully away.
Now say it – slowly. Nothing happens.