Pitmen worked beneath the skin, their charges primed,
to smash each fortress on each bitter crest.
They’d exhale death upon the hour, and time
the start – the steady boys above would do the rest.
Heads down, upfront, the innocent of every land and sin,
crouched serving men from villages and shops.
Firm-hoped, led-on, and keen to finish with a win,
then each proud son of earth could get back to his crops.
Think on them and how it was to cross the line,
to face the day of victories with hope, then chained
to stumble on with slaughtered friends before, behind –
to master enemies within they never had been trained.
The fields of blood are now the fields of corn –
farms have tidied up the broken hearts and bones.
Swept them to cemeteries where stone’s the uniform;
here crushed hopes are found, and each visitor, alone.
It is then. One of them sits at the back of class
and learns how to format a spreadsheet or two.
A teenager apprentice, he grins on demand,
and knows how to screen his idleness whenever
I come near. And here is the other, standing
to attention at the local Cenotaph, his proud
cadet clothes reminding all of loyalty,
safety, courage. He faints – the heat of ceremony,
the pressure of remembrance – and is led away.
It is now. His friend and he are gone. Too old
to be at home, they’re in their private world.
We’re out too. A friend is 50, an age they think
they’ll never be. The stack they’re playing in becomes
a beacon in the night. Must be a Viking raid, we say.
Holy Island, hide your valuable daughters.
Curiosity fades, and they’re unseen for miles.
Later, still a fearful blaze of sheer
obliterating light, we drive past, home.
The iron roof, trapped in rage, collapses.
Engines, men in uniform, stand helpless
in wonder at the flames. The innocent
darkness holds itself aloof. And as we
take ourselves away to beds and sleep,
their bodies are reducing, starved of
air; of everything they hope; their families’ love.
It is days. They are not missed, then are, then are not found.
And in the only place left for them to be –
fragments of bone, of priceless, matchless DNA.
No real answers but a mystery solved.
It is years. Nothing grows or is harvested there.
No shed or barn stands waiting for another
crop. Only shards of air that pierce the
everyday, that beg the head to turn and look.
No last post for them. Nor proud parents
holding letters of success from Boards or Colleges
for sleepy sons who nothing ever wakes.