Laying The Bones - Poem by Tony Jolley
While the going was still good to firm underfoot
And well before Nightmare armed itself to the teeth with hot-lead terror
And stormed the barricades of the waking hours;
Under skies so benign and benevolent
As to belie the sea-change in the weather to come,
Which, in a mere few months, would transform
Peaceful, green-gold to live and to love in
Into grey-brown mire to fear and to die in;
Under this pristine, endless-summer, cerulean blue
They came, with their khaki-clad camaraderie,
Marching and singing of invincibility
And an 'in the bag' victory:
Fodder straight from square-bashing on provincial parade grounds,
Buoyed up by an incendiary cocktail of bullshit and belief,
Seemingly without a care in the world,
Most away from home for the first time,
Apron-strings as fresh-cut as their pudding-basined hair,
Hell-bent on adventure and learning enough of the lingo
To hope to persuade une (ou peut-être plusieurs) des belles filles françaises
To consent to what the girls back home didn't, or wouldn't dare do.
Lads barely out of boyhood,
Apprentices in life and love as much as in trade and travel:
Their billett and board found and generously funded by the General Staff
Acting as some sort of Army Thomas Cook parody,
Packaging all the pieces: the trains, the boats and planes
To get them safely to their overseas destination,
[Or rather date with destiny].
Tickets issued were only one-way:
The return leg
Would depend on how many might still have legs
…or a lease, however tenuous, on life-force.
But they didn't know that then, of course.
Thousand upon thousand of bed and battle virgins
Ready to be blooded:
All too eager to lay the bones of both to rest,
To be able to say that the deed is done.
September came in Spades.
Someone somewhere cut the first sod,
Slung forward the soft, loamy soil as ordered:
A supposedly impregnable shield against enemy snipers and shells,
The space it once occupied now an embryonic trench-womb
To shelter safe the nine months until it must surely all be over
And, born-again, Life resume.
But in an agonising irony far too few would live to see
No earth-mother proved their Mother-Earth…
Her womb-waters bringing only Death to birth.
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