31st July 1917
If Europe was at war again
could it ever match the stain
of Passchendaele? The last throw,
the final act to put the sense of war
beyond all doubt. This word,
a mere location on a local map,
eyed with monocular vision by
the wisdom of the general staff,
is now an onomatopoeic standfast
for our times, so easily does it slip
into our tongue, with its Flemish
orthography hiding English suffering
and death. Lest we forget, as many
German dead are counted, but
the battle over numbers never ends,
though together, all no more.
But could we be at war again
when so many days as these
and broken lives and empty
hearts, have made their argument?
If suffering disaster binds, then
selfish statehood surely puts us back
to where we were, when treaties
only bound our continent to making war.
Starting today, 100 years ago
when much of Europe burns in heat
and ending in November when cold
will hold its heart, how right it is
to remember these unnumbered dead.
When those who take us out
of union assert the cause of unity
and peace are not the same; that nations
are better off alone to fight their battles
once again, and seek for allies in
the empire that’s gone.
31st July 2017
I have a treasure box, passed down through family ranks,
though none to my mind ever fought. A Christmas gift
to all the troops, a confidence in all the upright days ahead.
It gleams with hope. When polished, is like gold.
Inside, a swirl of oxide shows the copper in the brass.
In it I keep a shard of shrapnel from the salient at Ypres.
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.