! ! Dick Fozard's Wartime Navy Knife - Poem by Michael Shepherd
I’m not one for mementoes – Grandma
in sepia, pie-crust necked and pleated blouse,
expressionless amidst her dressed-up, mixed-up brood; chic aunt
with that hundred-watt smile which clicked
off, the instant the shutter clicked…but now
I’m holding this kitchen knife.
It’s got a triangular blade to allow
for that quick chop-chop of the trained cook
or kitchen-hand; black, dulled ebonite handle;
and although it’s made in Sheffield,
by Geo.Watt,1943, it’s not stainless steel
but stained iron; sharp, but not too dangerous
when used in the cook’s galley of a hungry ship of the unslept
that’s simultaneously zigzagging to avoid torpedoes
and kamikaze dive-bombers, while buffeting through
the South China Seas. The ‘ broad arrow’
stamped on it – as once used to pattern convicts' clothes –
here means, that it was wartime issue.
Dick trained as artist and lithographer’s apprentice
just in time not to hone his talents when called up
to fight the Japs in that nasty, ruthless end-campaign
when Europe had declared peace, but not Japan.
He wouldn’t talk of it; and when a few years back
someone saw and remembered him from then, he
shook hands warmly, said little, left it to the other jacktar
to tell the story when he’d gone. And went back to find himself again,
walking the Yorkshire hills and dales with rucksack, pipe, a crust,
an onion, cheese, cut I guess with this same knife, and
missing nothing with his artist’s vision;
beyond solitude; content; complete.
He never really used his part-developed skills again
except to teach, with few words but with superb craftsman’s care,
leaving a trail of devoted pupils: ‘He taught me all I know’.
Only those, perhaps, who know war,
can know peace in this way, asking nothing; to know him
(but careful not to question) was to know a little of that peace
deep within the sea of himself, the sea
which holds so many souls.
When he moved on, as he often did,
he left his knife. I use it every day,
remembering this man who was just one
who knew, lived, war, quietly guarding his memories
of pain with love, of love with pain.
I sharpen it, like a memory
I do not have. Like one who prays
devoutly, to that unknown god
of war; who may, in ways we cannot understand,
guard such souls.
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