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1916 - The Face of the Somme
Mila Clarke

The gas masks
Cover their faces like
Rubber skulls,
Staring, glassy eyed,
Expressions choked,
At the lucky ones
Shuffling in a line,
Hands on comrades' shoulders,
Queuing for death's door.

They sob and splutter,
Drowning in their own
Scarlet vitality,
Mud caked
Blistered fingers clutching,
Clutching, wrenching, groping
Neighbours' shoulders,
Wind blown straws
And their sweet short lives.
They are the lucky ones;
Five weeks,
No more…

They who stay
Must face their world
Upturned, where fields bare
No fruit for men to eat,
Only crops for a Valkyrie harvest,
And the peppered pineapples
Strewn across the plains
Bite back.
Where bombs plough
Sodden earth
And men
Are sewn.

Two years they lie
Dormant, broken
Then they sprout as
White marble trees,
Leafless, lifeless,
A trunk and two
Branches reaching for
Humane compassion,
Some with silent epitaph
Scored into the bark,
All with lonely memories
Lives loved and lost.

Sleep well young lads
Who graciously
Paid the cost of war,
Footed the bill
For king and country.
The fresh faced youths
Who will remain as such
While those who saw
An end and all beyond
Are withered,
Overripe with the
Fruits that, to them,
Life brings.

They are the face of war.
The rubber skulls
With crystal blinkers,
The rosy cheeked
Ruffians who signed up
And later… much later,
Their eyes clouded
By conflicting reminiscences…

They have faced their war,
It was engraved behind their faces.

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