THIS SOLITARY CLOAK

It is that time of year again, when our politicians and celebrities vie to see who can wear the most conspicuous poppy and those who take the option not to are poppy shamed in the tattered remnants of the press. This bizarre competitive poppy wearing reached its apogee when the prime minister was heard to mutter that it is outrageous that the national football team are banned from displaying their fundamental right to seem moved by wearing the petalled symbol of remembrance. If only the players could remember what it represents.

Of course that is by no means clear, does it represent the fallen? The conflict? Or the mind boggling vanity of the politicians of all nationalities who condemned literally millions of people to death for the greater glory of a lovely war? And for what? So the dead could be mostly forgotten or remembered not for their sacrifice but for the act of cringing conformity that is being seen to remember. It has become axiomatic that the most shallow amongst us feel the second and first World Wars can only be commemorated by populist exhibitionism. Serious face? Check. Visible poppy? Check. Photo opportunity? Check.

The World Wars are completely beyond our ability to comprehend them, we simply don’t have a frame of reference, we have too much time, safety and privilege, spending our days thinking a united Europe is a bad idea and making full size replica Spitfires out of egg boxes. We cower from the imposed thought of a single bomb going off in our capital city never wondering what it must have been like for Londoners when almost thirty thousand bombs went off. Just ask one of the increasingly few survivors what it is like to be blown out of your bedroom window in the middle of the night or how it feels to push a gritty bayonet through a young man’s sternum. Those who fought for us didn’t do it so that we could live in fear by directive, they did it so that we could be free, they also did it because they were told to and because they were made of sterling stuff.

Poppies in themselves are not a bad idea, I will wear one this year as I do every year, but I know why I wear it. Not to glorify war, not to support a murderous political elite, not because I have any fondness for the military complex but because I have the greatest of respect for all of the men and women, military or not, who never had any choice. They didn’t want to die, they didn’t expect to die but they did. It is a debt I can never repay, but it is a debt I owe and try to remember whenever I can and not just on the 11th of November.

To that end I have written yet another war poem, last year’s was about WW1, this one is about WW2, well sort of. As far as remembrance goes it isn’t perfect, but it is damn sight better than competitive poppycock.

Supermarine.

With polished scales of flint
the lane slithers from afar,
a slow worm shedding
loose of autumn’s skin.
Beneath the palest bluish tint,
the skies conscience clear,
the milk sun spoiling,
for the last hurrah.

Breath of curling drying nettles,
thickening ears of wild wheat,
blood of leaves turned to rust,
rising falling whispered swell.

On tempered breeze, coiling
springs of air and dust,
chasing one it settles,
dying at my feet.
Under a sunny spell,
grin from here to here,
I step upon its grave.
Toy soldier legged with tin,
so joyfully brave
yet softly dreading
the end of my twelfth year.

The going firm inclines,
time frozen flows uphill.
I walk the middle ground
raised between gutters of clay
pressed down by harvest tyres.
A peace of mind divines
family spirit and I am bound
to wear this solitary cloak,
to kneel at nature’s pew.
The vault draws silent still
bearing funereal smoke,
the body of late November
thrown on unseen pyres
and I remember,
screaming wide awake,
deafening red white flash,
heaven’s incendiary issue.
No candles on my cake
just burning, burning rows,
homes with eyes alight,
the low tidal arc
of the fireman’s hose,
the blazing city’s endless day,
through spat ash
and patted spark
to the shelter’s endless night.

In a sudden dead man’s curve
the lane climbs and turns,
a corner steep and blind
as a tube station stairs.
I pause as London wells
my mood a little worn,
I wonder now who cares,
the boy who’s seen too much
is falling.
I feel tottering bells,
my ears pricking up,
palm as trumpet cup.
Sunday calling.
Its familiar touch,
balm to the forlorn,
strikes a raw verve,
excites my troubles
(please let me stay
I am not afraid.)

On the drop away,
beneath angled ferns,
something wild cuts to quick.
I watch the green tips
with only half a mind,
Jerusalem on my lips,
until its progress is betrayed
by a string of diver’s bubbles,
chased by end over end stick.

The lane lifts my head
I turn with a start,
a stop in my humming
a furrow in my brow
something is coming.
‘What now?’
Forgotten bells, instead,
a rattling, a chattering,
a dry bone clattering,
an unholy racket,
chacker-Chacker-CHACKER!
And a winged go-cart
banks around the bend,
going very, very, fast.
The pilot a shaken blur,
in a too big flying jacket
with a smile of wide
couldn’t care less
recklessness.

Our eyes glance,
I freeze,
his face pinches.
‘LOOK OUT!’
I hear him shout,
but too late,
is this the end?
He hauls on the rope
missing me by inches,
grey/green flashing past,
RAF roundel on the side.
The cart judders, wails,
shudders, fishtails,
corrects,
flies straight.
He’ll make it, I hope,
no chance.
He hits the gutters,
the cross beam stutters,
a front wheel flees,
(bounce bounce glint glint)
the steering veers,
razor flint!
Just misses.
Axle spears,
cart trips,
seat ejects,
boy aloft,
cart flips,
comes to ground,
upside down,
spokes merry-go-round,
blinking butterfly kisses.

Silence, then soft,
the church bells,
the moment lingers.
In the overgrowth
fly boy gets to his feet,
ferns waist high.
Spitting bits of green
and a silent oath
he turns to meet
the obstruction.
He looks me in the eye,
his face grazed
by a curious frown.
With dainty fingers
imaginary goggles are raised.
‘SUPERMARINE!’
He yells
by way of introduction.

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