So, here I am giving a reading from my debut novel, Ezekiel, at the The Icelandic Poetry Center, in Siglufjordur, northern Iceland.
I gave the reading as the Writer in Residence for Authors at Large , a retreat program created by award winning writers Robin Hemley and Xu Xi, and hosted by Xu Xi and six time Pushcart Prize winning American nonfiction writer Brenda Miller.
Thank you to the wonderful people at The Icelandic Poetry Center for hosting the event and for Authors at Large for organizing it.
Below is a transcript of the chapter I read, The Battle of France.
He lay dying beside me in the ditch. The blood had passed through his jacket, staining the hand he couldn’t use anymore.
In his other hand was a photograph of a young woman. Her features, the small pointed nose and sly smile, reminded me of Thérèse. He had asked me to fish it out of his chest pocket only moments before. I read the inscription on the back before I gave it to him: “Je t’aime toujours! Veronique.”
My wife, he said, in perfect Parisian French. I smiled.
Above us you could still hear the sound of bullets and screams. Beside us, on top of each other, were two other German officers I had shot.
He reached his hand out to mine, the photo now submerged in blood on his chest. I took his hand in mine. I could feel his fear. We looked into each other’s eyes. Then, as I was to experience so many times in the future when people died in my care, a peace came over him, as if he were bathed in silence. The fear had gone. All that was left was innocence, the miracle of the human being, a deep thankfulness in his eyes, a gratitude. He smiled and said, “Merci, Ezekiel Moran.”
I smiled at him, and then he died.
I closed my eyes and quietly recited Psalm 23, his hand still warm in mine. After a few moments I lifted his hand and rested it on her photograph.
In my other hand was Dad’s opinel, a gift before I had left the mas. Only a minute before I had thought I would have to use it if my last bullet hadn’t done its work on Veronique’s husband. Her husband’s name was Hermann, Hermann Schmidt. He was the last man I killed, in the Battle of France, as a regular soldier.