Saturday, November 11, 2006

"The White Feather."

As I contemplate Remembrance Day (today), I have written the following poem entitled "The White Feather" which sadly seems apt in the climate of the current world.

"The White Feather."

Dedication: To soldiers of the Great War (and all wars).

"In the miserable winter of their war
he put his fist through the panel,
oak gave way first
then off to the asylum.

He was like so many men,
in an age without words
for his case or condition.

Post traumatic stress disorder
we call it now. In his time
shell shock (mad or a coward)
twitched the neighbours
with sons and husbands of their own
still under fire.

When they let him out
he walked for miles,
while the tendons in his arm mended
approvingly, while his nerves
rasped-on unseen.

The sudden allegation - "Traitor!"
switched him back into khaki -
mud and rats and dead friends
he never mentioned;
souls who screamed their names
at dead of night

while he slept on fitful sentry duty
next to a woman who
no longer knew who he was.

And now a scream by day: "Coward!
Go on! (sneering) Take it!"
He didn't look into her hand or eye.

The flesh was sewn with silver wires,
rather than amputate
(he pleaded with the surgeon to save his arm),
restrained politely in a steel brace
and kept hidden beneath an overcoat
slung over the lot.

The silly hat with a faded flower,
well-meant and plain with crooked teeth
and a Salvation Army dress,
became a German soldier,
shouting him down in a language
he didn't recognise,

so he lashed-out in terror and ran
for his life unthinking,
leaving a single white feather and a smashed face,
howling in horror on the ground:
another casualty in the long deep trench of war."

by Chris Rhodes

Author's Comments:

"This very sad tale is true, and is of my grandfather who won the
Military Medal having served in the trenches of WWI, but his nerves
never fully healed from that experience. I pity the poor misguided
woman too, who tried to award him the badge of cowardice."

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