Smell of death in the trenches
One time we recalled what it was like to smell death.
Some of the new ones argued that you couldn’t –
The clean air of home still lingering under their noses
like some bottled source of nostalgia and they sighed.
Others lay rotting in corner bunks – their skin white
and the Gerry shells rocking them to sleep.
One says that death smells like smoke.
The kind of smoke shells let off in black lingering mushrooms,
like some ever-present threat knocking on the door.
It blocks out all other smell and wears you down:
You forget what the sea smells like, mown grass, another says,
or fresh bread. They inhale trying to recall the smell.
One puts down his mug and addresses the troops:
‘It all smells like piss and vomit’ he says.
It’s the stinging smell of urine thrust up your nostrils
as you prepare to cross open ground.
The person next to you shakes like a train
and you know the smell as a signal for one minute left.
They vomit and piss as if it were the last things
they needed to do on Earth: You couldn’t need the toilet
when you were at the gates of Heaven, some said.
They began talking amongst themselves and then I realised
what death smelt like to me. It smells like iron I said.
Everything smells like iron. A grating sensation
upon your senses: The wet decaying smell of despair.
We carry it with us on our backs and fight against it
when bad weather comes. We bleed it when we are dying.
It is the iron will of our leaders sending us to our deaths.
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.