A young lady in wide brimmed hat and feathers,
A beauty on the face of it,
About my age, approaches,
Unsure at first, she then runs,
As I hope for a kiss or smile or at least hello.
I stagger half back as she plants a white feather
Pressed hot into my hand.
Coward she brands me without reason,
Its softness suddenly feels hard,
A plume that cuts me like a razor would,
Grabbing a hand of salt.
She obviously hadn’t noticed my hobble,
Except I’m not exempt from my life,
If she reads my sentence.
She didn’t look past my blue suit,
Its world weary wear and a tear at the seams.
She didn’t read my thoughts, but then how could she?
She doesn’t witness my nightmares
As I stagger through the daylight,
Imagining the crossfire, the blasts that rip into my silence,
The shelled insults that shock my spine and make me shake,
Even when a shotgun chases the crows.
Now I’m shaking for a different reason,
A mixture of anger, sadness.
She hasn’t seen the lines of men with bandages for faces,
Hands on each of their shoulders for guidance,
No light you see in No Man’s Land,
Crosses like pins on a torn patchwork of mud,
No time to sleep a wink on such a quilt,
No cushion, unless you shake death’s hand,
Shaped as a bullet or shell or something yellow and drifting.
She’s never heard the dance of hell,
The whistle before we dash over the top,
The final whistles of mortar falling as you dive into blackness
Into the void.
Men, some my friends poised on fire steps, never to move again,
Machine guns mowing them down, cutting their heads like flowers,
Slashing their torsos as a blade through blades of grass,
Men bleeding like poppies,
Some frozen in searchlights, paralyzed in body and mind,
Screaming upon barbed wire, scrambled dancing with death.
Some begging with bowels hanging out and stuffing gone.
You say I’ve got no guts,
Young woman unknown,
To me a coward comes in other forms.
She didn’t smell the rancour of phlegm fizzing mists,
Plumes that burn your throat and lungs,
The rancid clouds that left mates choked and stiff,
As they drowned stumbling through the smoke.
She didn’t taste the bitter mud as I fell in numbness,
My face blinded, one eye in darkness to sense death.
She hasn’t felt the weight of expectation,
The burden of carrying your brother to his grave.
Thankfully she hasn’t touched the darkest clouds,
I hope that she never does.