The Poetry Kit
We are the ones who refused to go ‘over the top’,
Choosing instead the coward’s route. The closest exit door.
Ardent for relief, we swapped the flicker of death
And the pallid hope of glory,
For the promise of certain pain.
I'll be some use to them as a cripple, but none at all dead!
The old refrain.
I am starving here, and so are they at home, we may as well starve together
All the lies we fed ourselves. The constant drizzling rain.
The rats, the filth, the mud, the cold. Entire days with no sleep.
The rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire. Enough to drive the strongest of strong minds insane.
No food – the gaping hole in the stomach that mimics the black hole in the chest;
Constant enemy fire from shells, machine-gun, rifle and gas.
Some put a bullet through the foot; some (more dramatically) shot a shell into the brain.
Some spoke of the shamelessness, most spoke of the shame.
Better that, we thought, than to be like our counterparts –
Shipped home in body bags, without labels, without names.
Returned, we are ghosts of men, marked.
Forever set apart – never the same way again.
Avoiding each others’ eyes, hair covered.
Smiles set rigid like masks – attempting to blend into the fray;
Little scores of Kaiser Sozes. It’s the limp that gives us away.
In Bloom Mark II
I’m not the first to step by this way, nor will I be the last.
There has been a not-so-stately procession of us,
Taking time out from the world.
Empires may well have crumpled while I was watching some unnamed insect
Steady and determined, work its way from A to B.
We are the oblivious, cripples craving oblivion.
Failing that, we find solace in small glories;
Some limp glumly past the magnolias –
Exclaiming as to their loveliness,
Others, speech beyond them,
Gurgle and point at the peonies.
Those of a Wordsworthian bent observe the daffodils.
They wither and wilt on the windowsills.
So transitory. Nothing lasts forever.
The mind filters what it will.
Some avert their eyes from all beauty.
They see only the white room of the present; the chair, the table, the lamp,
The bed with its stiffly starched sheets –
Ghosts, wolves, vampires – apparitions conjured from the deep.
We are the ones who’ve been across the river.
O, what stories we could tell. We have our own special language; code words for hell.
Some things can never be called by their real names.
How was the trip for you, my sweet?
Did you forget to pay the ferryman? Or did you pay him twice?
Darling, don’t even think about the price.
The nurses come and go.
I suspect them of snickering, but I can’t prove anything.
They have the upper hand. We are at their mercy.
I remember their faces; I forget their names.
At noon, somebody points to the orb that hangs suspended in the sky and says,
‘Bella Luna.’ So bright, so quiet, so meaningless.
At midnight, a nod at the clock, ‘It’s lunchtime now, dear.’
I say nothing of note – Lord knows, it’s always four a.m. here.
I am going to meet you over there.
All is not lost. There are always the blooms.
Everybody has their favourites;
For their blood red skirts, bulbous, silken,
It’s the tulips that I adore.
And the poppies for what they signify –
Soldiers lost in some never forgotten war.