Soldier by Anna Wigley

What did he see in the war, my father?
All I have are the photos – small sharp stills
from a 1940s film: Trevor Howard,
angular, tanned, glancing up handsome
from the shade of a cocked serge cap.
His hands, fine and strong, held compasses, maps;
knew the levers of lorries and the shafts of guns.
The same hands that cupped my head
like an egg when I tripped and fell,
could tell the cool weight of a grenade, the exact bite
of a Stanley knife. Had laid out the dead.

I could well believe he’d been a soldier,
the hardness of his body showed it.
And the way he held the bowl of his pipe,
firmly, with a kind of sure commitment:
this is what I am, these are my tools,
my equipment. There are tasks to be done.
It was there in the weave and cut of his clothes:
things well made, stout for their purpose –
gaberdine and wool, best leather, double-stitched,
double-knotted, built for wear and weather.

What could he do in peacetime
that would compare with those days
deliberate as a bird’s of animal’s days
when there’s food to be found, nests to be made?
The medals meant nothing:
trinkets, he called them. But the men –
ordinary, afraid and brave,
welded to him in the long slow furnace
of shared smokes in canvassed trucks,
nights under desert skies – it was they
who brought up the light in him,
repeating their lines forty years on.

What of the rest could he find to say
to a young girl who knew only
the safe house of his steady arms,
the gentleness of his delphinium eyes;
and the cheerfulness worn casually,
daily, like collar and tie.

by Anna Wigley

As the Team’s Head-Brass by Edward Thomas

As the team’s head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat amongst the boughs of the fallen elm
That strewed the angle of the fallow, and
Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square
Of charlock. Every time the horses turned
Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned
Upon the handles to say or ask a word,
About the weather, next about the war.
Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,
And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed
Once more.
Th blizzard felled the elm whose crest
I sat in, by a woodpecker’s round hole,
The ploughman said. ‘When will they take it away?’
‘When the war’s over.’ So the talk began –
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
‘Have you been out?’ ‘No.’ ‘And don’t want to, perhaps?’
‘If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more… Have many gone
From here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Many lost?’ ‘Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.’
‘And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.’ ‘Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.’ Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.

by Edward Thomas

World War II comes to XXI Heol Eglwys by Robert Minhinnick

Even without a blackout
There was not much to show.
A street of cottages and whitewashed pub
Well used to the art of dousing
Every trace of light.

You knew the Heinkel’s unique drone –
Big, angry maybug trapped in a shade –
Yet here was one lower, and faltering.

The Swansea bombs were a murmur at dusk
But this was the first you ever heard fall:
Thin steam from a kettle;
The whine of sap in a sycamore;
Mosquito’s itchy piccolo.

Under the table you felt the house’s gentle shift,
Making itself more comfortable.
A joint shuddered, perhaps a slate
Escaped its nail.

And the next morning
Stood out in the field staring into the crater
That 500 pounds of German dynamite had dug.

At the rim you found a cow’s horn
Polished like the haft of a walking-stick,
And noted the mattresses of roots, silver now,
In the wall of the pit.

‘If the buggers could aim,’ your mother had said,
Shaking the plaster out of the tablecloth,
‘They’d be dangerous.’

by Robert Minhinnick

Jets by Christopher Meredith

All day the jets have rifled through the air,
Drilled through the lessons that I’ve tried to give.
Scabbing the blue with vapour for a scar,
Passing the dummy-bombed hamlets with a wave.

I’ve comforted myself. I’m not so bad,
I’ve thought, in spite of the raised voice, the sudden squall
If discipline and strictness knocks them dead
At least I’m not out there learning to kill.

And each frail cliche rears to the surface.
Writhes in the strong light, dies, and having sunk
Leaves me to know I work for who in office
Shuts books to put more octane in the tank.

What I would does not possess our minds.
This boy, the fat one, has been rifled too.
Belongs to the plane amd every bomb it sends,
Absorption melted from his ragged row

Of words. Just now he, my bluntest blade
Inevitably felled first in any game,
Looked from the tortured page, the word-wrought board,
To a sky where steel hammered its own scream –
And smiled.

by Christopher Meredith

Soldier by Tony Conran

1
I am worth what others suffer for me.
The currency is pain. In the Ice Age
I first heard the jingle of it.
People against bear, against wolf, against people.

In the hosting millions of me
I am the limits of wealth.
Sooner or later, power cannot suffer enough.

2
Most places in the world
I am luxury goods.
The suffering I cost
Is simple as Christmas.

I am unwrapped at parades.
The Good Fairy
Takes the salute –

Rachel in Ephrath crying,
The mother of us
Weeping in Ramah
Because her children are not.

3
In every man, male of the species,
A soldier is wrapped.

Just as, in every baby
There is a corpse.

Just as, in every beggarman
The Redeemer of the world.

4
Rich man, you’ve got some pain to buy me?
Poor man, give me the pain.
Beggarman, I am you by myself,
Thief, honour me.

Rich man, it’s justice is it?
Poor man, leave it.
Beggarman, I am homeless under the night.
Thief, I am loot.

5
In every wardrobe there is a soldier
Mothballed in the corner.
Don’t fool yourself, friend.

We can only die once.

6
Right. Left. Right. Left.
Left. Left. Left.

The snuff. The desert sand.
Vultures strutting like Generals

Baldheaded.

Left. Left. Left.

by Tony Conran