A Veteran Of Passchendaele At Rest, Lilyfield, Manitoba, 1923

They said you could see the madness in Haig’s face:

A certain set of the jaw, a steeliness to the gaze,

Which to some spoke of an admirable duty to King, country, and honor,

But to those who have seen it too often before

More an indication of mania, the pursuit of an unholy grail for its own sake.

Understand, we’d lived that before–crawling like infants

Through razor wire and enfilade,

All to possess a few meters of muck so sodden

That sappers in the trenches had drowned

In an infernal mixture of a mousse of French sludge and their own excrement,

(I have never found it fit to complain about the Fokker–sized mosquitoes of July

Or five-below in January since) all so the Bosch,

Having emerged like roaches or rats from their pillboxes,

Could reclaim it scant days later, so when Haig decided to punch that dance card

Yet once more, they said Currie (no firebrand by any measure)

Actually yelled– Not these boys! Not for this patch of mud!

It was in vain, of course; there is no greater folly

Than to argue with a man in the full grip of an unhallowed passion.

The results were predictable: harried mothers dropping off juniors

Who had never known senior at school,

Prairie farms shorthanded by two or three sons,

A battle which changed nothing, a state funeral for a field marshal.

 

We veterans have been asked–often, mind you—-to lend name and purse

To the establishment of a monument on or near that ill-fated ground.

Invariably, I politely (but firmly) decline;

I cannot picture some noble bronze figure marching bravely across that field

(As if anyone traversed those fields upright!) or some subdued plaque

Appropriately commemorating what transpired outside that tiny village.

There are any number of perfect apt memorials already there:

Odd, out-of-place pot-bunkers and moraines

Which still dot the landscape, some sporting bandages of grasses and blooms,

And when the machinations of nature

Have finally smoothed and leveled the ground,

Those who feel the need to memorialize what came to pass there

Will be long since dead, and likely for the best,

For those proposed cenotaphs would be testament

To no more than the grim realization

That our generation was no more able to conquer madness

Than any who had preceded our succeeded our own.

Indeed, I have often seen boys playing shinny on the ponds

(More than a few of whom had fathers or brothers fall on that forsaken turf)

Raise up their sticks as fire them into the air at some unseen antagonist,

And I have wondered to myself What was it all for, Lord?

What for?

 

 

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4 thoughts on “A Veteran Of Passchendaele At Rest, Lilyfield, Manitoba, 1923

  1. A first person narrative of this kind cannot fail to touch the heart, and make one pause the imagine life from another’s perspective.. The dead and veterans of Passchendaele can no longer tell their own story, but I’m glad that others have taken that burden on themselves.

    Thank you for sharing your work on Real Toads. I was so delighted to see you there.

  2. W.K. This is impressive writing, written as if by one who was there. The set of the jaw, a steeliness to the gaze, brings forth rock solid images, as does the rest of the poem. I believe this is my first visit to your blog. I hope to come back many, many times.

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