Since I published another poem about Whitchurch today, I thought I’d better
include this one.
Brigadier wheat gilds the road from Somborne,
ready for reaping, caressed by the wind
and somnolent poppies, marginalised,
incline their bloody heads in remembrance,
while cornflowers, blue as a young man’s eyes,
or forget-me-nots, blink from future swathes.
In Whitchurch Lord Denning reminisces
about his brother, Jack, whose final note
was pencilled home before the telegram’s
bombardment. This was a lifetime ago.
That name was stamped in tin, tacked to a cross
somewhere in Heilly. Master of the Rolls,
you lived for your country; he died for it.
These rolling downs, now ripe with swaying crops,
owe their existence to a million
casualties: the blossom of Europe’s manhood;
mown down for twelve muddy kilometres
and a nonagenarian who claims
an Englishman’s home is his castle.
Boys with Supersoakers, artillery
fuelled by Test water, are trigger happy,
running to and fro like mad, bunkered rats.
Their aged host watches the annual tug-of-war
between sides formed from the same public school.
They strain to win, heels well dug in, entrenched,
trying to etch their team on Honour’s roll.
Something about healthy competition,
obligation, a new generation,
is the substance of his annual speech.
When all have gone, he thinks of five brothers
for whom the tug of war was not a game
and of the one who was pipped to the post
before he’d had a chance to fire his round.
His walking stick prods a discarded vest.
A shrill skylark, startled in the trees,
explodes a petal shower overhead