Dulce et Decorum Est

I was taught this poem by a veteran of World War II. He was fifteen or sixteen when he was captured and became a POW, the youngest English POW. He had lied about his age to join up. He spent the rest of his life campaigning for the cause of boy soldiers who like him had joined up during World War I and were shot for cowardice, when they were actually suffering from shell shock or PTSD as it now know as.

By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Uncertainty

Uncertainty,
that pickled vintage,
always on the ropes.
A sea change
of course.
Unacknowledged,
until it hits you,
right between the eyes


Dreamtime

To be an uninvited guest.
A stranger in your own land.
Undocumented and overlooked.
Passing invisibly
through the teaming throng.
Waiting at the light for a break,
with people screaming silently.
Breathing in exhaust pollution.
On a dreamtime journey –
upstream and against the tide.


I’m So Hollow

I don’t talk.
I speak with a headlong
rush into the silence.
Pregnant and embarrassing.
Full of half-forgotten threads.
Awkward eye movements.
Sounds that hope to be words,
but fail at the first syllable.

I don’t talk.
I speak to fill the void,
you have left.
Whirring like an
empty reel of tape.
Magnetic in its brilliance.
Crackling and fantastic.
But hollow all the same.


Ready to be Reborn

Softly,
the background breathing.
Slowly slipping down.
Setting-sail on a wide river.
With a mind attuned.
Focused not on here and now,
but on a place beyond the body.
The place where the soul goes.
Swaddled and ready to be reborn.


Cat Memories

Folding and unfolding.
Sleeping on your chest.
Needing, back and forth.
Back and forth.

How many cats,
have claimed their rightful place,
at the centre of the space,
that was formally called yours.

Returning selfishly,
all on their lonesome.
With ears primed,
for the footsteps of others.

With tractor purrs
and round the houses wriggling,
napping momentarily,
before moving on.

Leaving a memory.
A placeholder.
A warm spot.
Inside your collarbone.


Dead Fingers Talk

From an angle
and the city.
In a cold dim place,
as potent as lightning.
Like there’s been
some kind of ritual killing.
Burn its remains
as quickly as possible.
Deal with the body
the way you would,
a long hard winter.
Say without saying,
render into nothing.
Form squares in the sky.
Make lipstick with light,
and molasses clear.
In the shadow of the tower
on a motorway, west.
Feel the darkness around.
Feel the dead fingers talk.