Selective Remembrance

Today’s poem commemorates a century since the ending of ‘the war to end all wars.’ Which hasn’t happened again and again and again worldwide, in civil disputes, freedom fights, and far ranging involvements that have resulted in more war and less peace.  Remembrance Day 2018 salutes the fallen who served when called. But on this Remembrance Day I also want to be thankful for those conscientious objectors, many of whom I met when they were in their 80s and 90s back in the last millenium.  I knew COs who served in the merchant marine in both world wars. I knew those who served in the Friends Ambulence Unit. I knew those who did social work in the bomb ravaged East End of London as alternative service. I even knew a CO who was a jail bird. Rather than parlay his engineering reserved occupation status, he went to Stangeways Prison and rewired their electrics. I remember them today.

The poem’s title is inspired by a project a Quaker friend of mine participated for this Remembrance Day. She was here last summer and crocheted numerous white poppies to create wreaths of remembrance for those who suffered the collateral damage of war. You can find out more about this Peace Pledge Union project  here.

The white poppy has become the pacifist way of remembering on the 11th of the 11th month each year. I am remembering with a poem that was also in part inspired by a BBC documentary where a German World War I combatant described how his first kill affected him forever.

The featured image is a photograph I took in Litchfield Cathedral last April. In a side chapel they had an exhibit on the first World War. This sculpture calls to mind the many (about 300 if my memory of one statistic floated is serving me correct) shell-shocked soldiers who were executed for ‘funking.’ I remember those men, too, today.

This is a revised version of a poem originally posted here in 2018

Collateral Damage

Killing is nothing personal

so long as it is wears the other uniform.

One who knew the trenches spoke,

remembered the moment

he saw the eyes of the man

he bayonetted.

How strangling, beating

and stabbing were their day’s work.

No problem…

except he still woke some nights,

haunted by that Frenchman’s eyes,

his hand,

which otherwise he would have taken and shook.

Then there were the ones who came home broken –

even after Armistice those absent

while sitting around the dining table.

There were Dads who disappeared each Christmas

down a bottle, refighting the Battle.

There were ones who drove family away.

Home has no place for combat.

Lest we forget the shell-shocked comrades

stood blindfolded before firing squad

knowing the Pals taking the parting shot.

Lest we forget survivors who escaped

bombs and bullets in cellars. And rape. Or not.

The victor can spoil. They’ve lost the shellac.

It leaves a wildness in the blood and bone.

War spoils,

both survivors and civilians back home.

That peace bugled at Last Post

never sounded an easy note.

Lest we forget the price of peace consider

the cost in collateral damage

It’s colossal.

It’s personal,

whites in eyes.

Like a bayonet into a belly.

Truly, that is the business of war.

All are lost.

Lest we forget.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020

I discovered this photo on Facebook in a post by Nikki Phillips of an art installation by Jackie Llandelli of Ghost Soldiers overlooking their memorials in St. John’s Churchyard, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

Ghost Soldiers

			

A Season of Remembrance

The Sunday Weekly poem arrives after a remarkably hectic week given the time of the year. I am not even sure why or how to describe such a procession of pleasant happenings as hectic. Perhaps I still have an extended post-birthday giddiness from my mock Mojito last Sunday. Yet, here we are descending into the dark pit of the year and I am feeling as frisky as Tigger. I love the alternating low sky with heavy rain, the astonishing sunsets and brief minutes of brilliant sunshine that are like the embers of a low fire.

Sundown over Paps of the Morrigan

No wonder the ancestors designated this the time of year to share memories and stories. It is averred that the Milesians, one of the early invaders of the island that we know as Ireland, said that ‘poetry is all memory.’ In an oral tradition that would be in a literal sense, but I am sure there are more metaphysical and metaphorical meanings to tease from that rubric.

In the twilight our group lit 350 candles in jam jars and placed them around the paths in the labyrinth to light our meditative walk around after sunset. John also lit a fire in the seating area in centre of the labyrinth for comfort. It was a night when you needed to wrap up well and wear a hat and gloves.

.

Labyrinth

Surrender to amazement. Be found
in the lantern lit labyrinth surrounded
by velvet darkness. Above,a cloud scudded sky
is blanched by a pregnant moon. Remember.
Once again, you may find who you truly
are. Bewilderment may find you a miracle
so fervently beseeched it was forgotten.
You may breach the maze in your mind
in the night's blooming darkness, its welcome
silence, in the scrying for your future,
reading the embers in the need fire.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved
Sundown at our home Friday night.