This poem is taken from Stand 217, 16(1) March - April 2018.
Each evening the real work starts, not at the front but in front of it: repair the wire, recover his guts, dig that sap, patrol or raid. The detail shivers in its crump-hole, funked by a Verey’s glow and the unreality of it all, its goal a cornered Hun to bring back alive with his terror and those photographs of home. The land itself has never been so intimately known, as you snout an earth flayed of its skin. This night gets lost to all whereabouts and a dawn that lifts too quickly at your shoulder. Reduced from subaltern to silhouette, an eye narrows on the cross-hairs, somewhere on high a lark sings and off clicks the safety-catch.
No generation for your overshare, we hashtag it inward, keep the secret to ourselves until the back door slams or the coalman drops a sack. Only once, when some drayman lost his grip, did the street get it out of me. One time and one time only, as I shuffled to The King’s Arms and that big word which claimed our captain revived my cowardice. Before I punched him, Stan’s kid laughed at ‘the man with the muck rake’ while I pissed time down my leg. Never again. Though back in the mud of a moment, my allotment stays undug as I listen to the larks. And each night beside the po, I am cured by persuasion from a ghost-racked wife.
26. Gold into iron / Iron into gold
When you ask how he gets that flavour, your affable neighbour, with a flourish of the tongs says, Iron into gold. And the lovely new house? Have another burger. For his mate Dave, it’s the work of an hour to encrypt a trade deal and unpin the barrels, or when running short, do the night drive to that field in Kent. Just a jaunt out of Pressburg and a trip to the shop while the kids are on exeat with their mothers in France. Bought legally at source, filched home to the Weald, it is but a laudable attempt to maximize returns. No nexus here just the blameless gyres of commerce. With the heat from his barbecue he starts to sweat, gets Dave’s text: we’re all gangsters now.
33. Also Ran, Versailles
Start with that photograph, then track the drift of alias through the life of one man to its resting place in time. Today, at twenty-eight, you are Nguyên the Accomplished, Thành the dish-washer, a pastry chef from Ealing at the point of becoming Quoc the Patriot, always an interloper kept out on the step. Surely, though, you stand there, borne but ignored, snapped among the old men – stern and ascetic, settling their account – still years from history’s tag. Nomad, scofflaw, nondescript enigma, Zelig-at-the-shoulder of coin and salt and victor, the nascent song of rolling thunder distant down the hall: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh/ Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.
And because of this you hold fast to your Achilles, your Gawain and Crécy, your Agincourt and Blenheim. With an all-the-same blush but the due of a chap drawn close to his own inescapable fact, you ride out the dog days of that fabled Summer, as if to hunt. One only lives once, so play up and live it well and, if you must, die better, an English knight impeccably dispatched upon the plain of Ilium, blood-elegant in the still sad music of your final dismount, as your horse is torn throat to gut by six rounds from a Spandau 08. Get to your feet, slip in warm viscera and, on the way down, take one of your own through that finely sculpted jaw. ROFL. ROFL? Not anymore.