Cenotaph

by Vanessa Gebbie

Under duress, stone gives
up its constituent parts.
Ancient shells, sediment
filled, crystalline. These
shells fell gently, a rain of
mollusc debris, landed
in the near-silence of
seabed crepitation, the
ceaseless whisper of silt.

Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, a flash fiction and short story writer, and commissioning editor of a text book on the art of the short story. Her publications include: The Coward’s Tale ( a novel from Bloomsbury), Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning (short fictions from Salt Modern Fiction), Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story (text book from Salt Publishing). She is also a prizewinning poet, won the 2012 International Troubadour Prize, and her pamphlet ‘The Half-life of Fathers’ is published by Pighog Press. She teaches widely.

I’ll admit it. I had to look up the meaning of “cenotaph.” What if I hadn’t? What other meanings do you think might exist for it?

        This is hard to answer, in the sense that it can’t mean anything else here in the UK, it’s such a well known, iconic thing—a memorial in the shape of an empty tomb, put up after a war to those who are either buried elsewhere, or have no known grave. We have many, in most cities, usually memorials to the Great War (1914-18). I did a bit of googling, and see that the US has them too, Yale has a particularly fine one, and the Alamo memorial is also a cenotaph. As you know,the word is based on the Greek, meaning ‘empty tomb’.

        Whatever it might mean, otherwise, it would need to be something made of Portland stone or similar, a type of stone filled with shell fossils. It might mean a plinth? Or a memorial poem….

        This poem is one of a series inspired by the memorials in London to the fallen of The Great War.

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