A very British remembrance ceremony
“Almost 1.5 million of the 2.5 million men of the British empire who fought in the first World War were Indian volunteers”
Source: National Archives
At the remembrance buffet by a zero-hour waitress
Right honourable men discuss white heroism
one of them is scared stiff of the rent boy
shooting his mouth off to the Mail,
scared stiff like the wet soldier
before he went over the top
reciting the lord’s prayer
by Muslim soldiers
yes, Muslim men
they went first
last if not
Let a poem stand for them unlike the priest,
Standing at the stone lie by British names
Johal, Khan, Singh.
Singh translated means lion there
Were more than three lions
one point three million
so why a white vicar
and no mullah
or black cloth
blow candles out
watch breath sew grey rags
for the man from Antigua good to die
fold his mother into his shirt from a telegram
your son fell for a king who dips his soldiers in yolk
who wipes the black crumbs from his manicured fingers
who shoots a pheasant at dawn that cowered behind the post
oh George I saw you guffawing in the dell with a soft mouth gun dog.
The homeless paratrooper
“In some parts of the country they (ex military) number 12% of the homeless population”
The sleeping bag contains her movements.
Twitching in that chrysalis is a pinned butterfly
I want you to hold her but she it too delicate for human hands.
Five years ago she paused the woman and began transformation,
what people forget about paratroopers is they fall,
mach-two fire wheezes like a dying devil.
If her head was a lid and I poured you a taste of Afghanistan
it would taste like lamb and the mortuary of heaven,
the median age of slaughtered meat is nineteen.
If her heart was a doorway it would be locked, yet slightly ajar,
if you knock it means you are not ready to enter.
If she is not there then she is in uniform.
Nine years ago I met a para who told me his name like it still mattered.
He left a world on my shoulders to carry me to safety,
he gave me eyes so I could defend myself.
One year ago I saw the rectangle of where her chrysalis was moved.
Perhaps she will live for a day and spread her colours in the grey,
perhaps war will catch another butterfly and hide its remains.
Since nineteen twelve that tree recorded the sky
a marriage of wood and stars until the glitch,
the fiery sore that cleaved you open
an etched heart and arrow
names in penknife kanji.
They circle the Aogiri tree,
like Nagasaki streetcars on inertia.
The passengers burnt where they stood,
a passage of static lifting their hair like fans,
married to atoms they chanted names to Yeshua.
A man once told me of the joy.
He saw a black rain of starlings over the sea,
his boat drifted into the nothingness and listed,
that moment he smiled so wide his gums bled burgundy.
The joy he felt lifted like the silver phosphate of his bride to be.
are screams ending
like stretched silk rending.
are orphans gekkering
like hearts full of lettering.
are Hibakusha giving,
all the lost life to all of the living.
The bald crow was not itself
it’s mange maddened caw hushed cicadas
the fingering wings afraid to touch the blue betraying sky.
The pipistrelles ignited where they bivouacked,
At night their hearts glow like dim lanterns
They are emitting the souls of Hiroshima.
The flowerheads are blotchy with bees
Soused from strange pollen they are the pulse of heaven
Lucifer himself is admiring the wet black seeds of fallen man turned god.
The hives all wept colonies and royal jelly,
A sika deer laps the golden palaces and falls over a cliff,
There are so many of gods animals smashed against the rocks.
Lucifer himself watches the rape of Mother Nature and man is unborn.
Antony Owen is from Coventry, England and is the author of five collections of poetry. His latest poetry collection, The Nagasaki Elder was shortlisted for the 2017 Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry. His poetry has been translated in several languages and in March 2018 was announced a category winner of the British Army Poetry competition for Armistice.