Tag Archives: WWI

The Lost Boys

In Neverland – never to grow old
never to marry that sweetheart
never to have children and grandchildren
nor watch hair thin and grey.

Full of derring-do – more dash than discipline
lanky and loose-limbed they swank and saunter
not like soldiers at all
no doff the cap humility
to the old rules and distant monarchies.

From a newly stolen world
hardly secured or steady with itself
lodged on the edge of a vast continent
clinging to a rim of turquoise blue.

Now cramped
in the pock-holed sores of ancient lands
richly bone-dusted from time to time.

Waiting for the fight to end
to go ‘back home’ ‘over there’
to farms and factories; schools and stations.

Still there – left behind
in the archipelago of cemeteries
as far as Fromelles, Pozieres,
to Bullencourt and Paschendaele
in fields of beetroot and corn,
fields bleeding red with poppies
beside the Menin Road at Ypres
in bluebelled woods of Verdun
in the silt of the Somme
on the plains of Flanders
in the victory graves at Amiens

Monash’s boys – the lost boys
cried for their mothers
begged for water
screamed to die
hung like khaki bundles on the wire.

Commanded by Field Marshalls
who never went to the fields,
who played the numbers game
in a war of bluff and bluster,
who never touched the dirt and slime,
nor waded through the bloody slush
of broken men and boys,
never waist-deep in mud and sinking,
wounded and drowning in that shambles of a war

Wearing dead men’s boots
and shrapnel-holed helmets
tunics and leggings splattered and rotting
with dead men’s blood and brains

Some haunted boys came home
knapsacks full of secret pictures,
old rusty tins crammed with suffering
breast pockets held their grief
wrapped in shroud-shreds.

They brought their duckboard demons
to the world of peace
Gas-choked fretful lungs still brought
the caustic fumes with every breath exhaled
and from every pore the death-sweat of decay.

But most boys were lost boys
lost forever in that no-man’s land
that Neverland of lives unlived.
© M.L.Emmett

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Filed under Grief, War Poem

The Somme Sunset

Sun swollen
reddening as it sank
that brutal bloody disc
scored by church steeples
and chimney stacks
almost lost in the drifting haze
of sulphurous yellow
and char-black smoke.

Duck boards dip
into the sodden earth
as men tramp along in conga lines
holding tight the pack of the man
in front, lest they should slip
lose quick their footing
be sucked down and smothered
by mud.

The walls of the tunnels
are packed earth
rich with blood and bone
bits and pieces of human
anatomy dangle and hang
as if posed by an artist
with a strange and cruel eye
for detail.

The scrabble for fox holes
and rough scraped ditches,
anywhere, below the line of fire.
The ting and whiz-bang
of a night of action
The whistle, the dash
and the forward push
counted more in men
than metres.

© M.L.Emmett

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Filed under Poem, Sunset, War

Zerfallender Kampfgraben ~ Collapsed Trenches

In the aftermath, in Dresden
my new objectivity was too real
and confronting for the Weimar Republic
and its brown shirt undertow.
And as their tide reached high water,
my teaching post, lost
lest I infect the young with truth
I moved to the south to Lake Constance
ordered to paint peaceful landscapes

But this is the landscape of my life
the landscape of war that etches itself
in my nightmares and dreams
it itches my skin in the scars and puckers
of my shrapnel pitted wounds

After the nine day barrage at the Somme
everything we’d packed into the trench wall
buried out of sight and scent
cascaded like a muddy, bloody waterfall
and bathed the corpses baking in the sun
nibbled by the dainty, tearing teeth
of Hamelin’s scourge, the only living thing
apart from me, it seems.

I am posed in a still life
bleeding slowly beneath an uprooted tree
languid limbs are draped or dangling free
spines scoliosed in curls and loops
prison bars of rib cages cracked open
skulls rotted clean to greasy marbled bone
this landscape is my legacy for you.

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The Somme Offensive 1916

For nine days the artillery barrage
rained down on us
that June of summer in the Somme
machine gunners like me waited
in our concrete bunkers deep in the earth

When the shelling stopped
we rushed to the surface
and began our job of mowing down
the slow walking British Infantry
stoically advancing as if in another war
in another time where they might choose
to die bravely and with honour
a hero fighting for his life
his king and country

But here he dies unknown
by the chance turning of my gun
in his direction at that one moment
and the random number of bullets
left to fire.

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Night-Time Encounter with a Madman

~ Otto Dix Plate 22 ~

Each night I meet myself in nightmares
I am my own enemy fighting in No-man’s land
I am material and real, yet I barely exist
in my imagination.

There is nothing whole and complete
nothing has retained its shape or structure
everything is splintered into surfaces
in my imagination.

There can be only shreds and shards
only textures, hard lines and spaces
where white light can dance free
in my imagination.

Each night I crawl through ruined houses
along dark passages that close me in
dropping to bottomless depths of myself
in my imagination

There are only axons and dendrites in my mind
electric sparking, all atoms in a crystal night
a grasping hand, a gaping eye disconnected
in my imagination.

Each night I try to find myself in nightmares
I am my own enemy fighting in No-man’s land
I am dark energy and matter, yet I barely exist
in my imagination.

© M.L.Emmett

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