The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

*

VERDUN

*

Before the early fog has lifted

I enter the woods’ canopy

and trip on ridges and craters:

the mired banks of the age of steel.

*

Spiked helmets of ghostly armies

rise up in the smoking dawn,

the pregnant moon is still red,

hanging over the new day’s uncertainty.

*

These trees echo an empire’s split

between sons, the hollow slaughter

and bleating soldiers filing past

the shepherds of the nation.

*

Waxed moustaches, duelling scars

fight hand-to-hand with les poilus

and the Fort’s dark under-ground

transforms into their catacombs.

*

“Do not by-pass us as you go by;

We are the bayonet platoon,

overwhelmed by earth and rising

into new life with our steeled spines.”

*

Death of youth. The turf is bone-fed,

those lucky in the ossuary

which, like a giant white bullet,

points at God’s heart in vast reproach.

*

*

“Lord, your only begotten son

you gave; a million loves we lost

and mislaid a generation:

your mercy conducts obscurely.”

*

Sad, stone lion, you have barely strength

to lick your wounded paw and stare

away from the world as if bars

of an invisible cage surround you.

*

I can bear this death-field no more:

the young men and their promised loves.

Is my life wasted as others

have consumed theirs in blood and pain?

*

Leaping on my motorcycle

I flee from the past, my conscience.

Lion, summer’s birth sign, you live

in the minds of men everywhere…

*

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2 thoughts on “The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

  1. Thank you for your Armistice Day poem. Many years ago, as a child I was taken to Verdun with my grandmother and the visit had an impact on me. Just seeing how ravaged the earth still is was shocking. My grandmother, who suffered a lot in WWII, wept during our visit there.

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