And couldn’t comprehend
The history of war.
But my veins were full of it.
Too many old men before me
Had shuffled into the twilight
Locked in private prisons
Too shameful to reveal.
Fathers’ and grandfathers’
Slow falling into the oblivion
Of too many world wars.
Their survival was a mystery to them.
As old now as they were in the end,
I have no nightmares to repress;
Without blood and sacrifice,
Not a witness to action,
No hailstorm bullets,
Nor the reaper’s shifting smokescreen
With its shell-burst machine-gun rattle
Or the death-croak whimpering,
Like an unexpected greeting
When flesh meets metal.
I’d heard only stories from their lips:
Daring stunts in the face of danger
Bravado performed to hide relief
At cheating the sniper’s aim
Or munition’s blasted accident.
How the next man fell
Stone-dead with a single shot,
A pinhole in the brow.
How a clean wound was better
Than a thousand shrapnel pieces
And a shredded end.
How the dead resembled the living,
With stillness in their cold, cold eyes
As battle looked for more to lay beside them,
Friend and foe alike.
That was the secret
Untold with all the other anguishes of war.
Friends and comrades laid upon the sod,
And enemies recognised as only men,
Merely men in different clothes.
© BH 2014
This, the first of 2014's WW1 sequence, is just a question. Why did they never speak of it? Different times, of course. Reticence, shame, sickness. Maybe there were neither words nor common experiences with which to make sense of it. The dead were dead but for so many who came back the change was profound. I wonder what did that make of our grandfathers and fathers and by their gift of us?
BTW. This is one of a sequence, For the Falling - Silence, Duty, Brave, POW. They're all here. Because they have to be.