Floating in darkness for eighty years,
he gave up his secrets
to workmen excavating a swimming pool,
his disassembled bones were gathered up
with helmet gun and razor,
he prepared to rejoin the ranks
in a forest glade near Arras,
where white tablets, flowers and birdsong
lyricise the obscene.
Summoned to a brassfest
of haggard brigadiers and rubicund captains
two nephews, two nieces,
old enough to be his parents,
fly in—VIPs for a day.
In the name of those as yet unnamed
we are feted by Mayor and village,
James is honoured and thanked,
we show his photograph
‘Good luck to all’ in his copperplate script—
my father was three days old when he went.
Next day a mass, a coffin,
six young soldiers brought in from England
to be his pallbearers.
They are rehearsing for heroism,
cast poppies into the grave
while The Last Post seals the moment.
I am seduced in spite of myself:
no wonder they call it the theatre of war.
His mother, who carried him under her heart
for nine months and then the rest of her life,
threw letter and medal on the back of the fire.
‘They have given me a lump of tin for my son.’
Who would dare invite her to Arras?