By Robert Cosgriff


Cold, an all-pervading, shivering cold;

Even pressing close in ranks did not bring warmth.

The spotlights’ heat died so high up in the night air

The lanterns might as well have been dim stars

Hoarding hydrogen in some distant corner

Of a far, far colder, crueler universe.


The gloved, gray soldiers looked as cold

As their rifle barrels, oiled against just such a night.

Their dogs whimpered, pulled on the leash,

All fierceness frozen out of them.

Some one, or some thing, had turned up missing,

So they rousted everybody out, “Snell! Snell!

Even if you had no shoes, no shirt, no hat,

Or were young, or old, or pregnant, or ill.


Stamping the ground did little good.

“Stop moving!” “Seien Sie still!”

Somewhere, a train exhaled brittle steam,

Wheels screeching on frozen steel.

It would be warm by the firebox.

Coughs filled the air with small clouds.

How long will they make us stand here?

It would be warm in the latrines,

Where the daily waste of squalid hundreds

Decomposed with a damp, fetid heat.


In the crystalline air, every noise carried:

Voices . . . machines . . . wind. No, God, not wind!

How can hell be so accursed cold?

We’d give anything to be warm again.

Across the camp, ovens glowed red,

Chimneys soughed, exhaling sparks into the void.



Robert Cosgriff (Fairfax, VA) is a retired Navy commander. A magna cum laude graduate of Villanova University, he earned an MA in Education from Pepperdine University. His interests in addition to writing include birding, running and American history, all of which have found expression in his poetry. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in over two dozen print journals and e-zines nationally, including South Carolina Review, English Journal, Nassau Review (Best Poem, 2003), Cumberland Review (finalist, Robert Penn Warren Poetry Contest), Eclipse, Chaffin Review and California Quarterly. His poem “A Century of Links” was used for the text of an original video production by the Lorton Arts Foundation’s Workhouse at Occoquan, an extensive arts complex on the rehabilitated site of an historic former prison in Fairfax.

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