On seeing a newspaper photograph
Twenty men. Arm in arm. A find on excavating
for the building of a factory. Whistling together
these lads cheerfully crossed the water. A Great War
had to be fought, and they, they were to do their bit.
Through bakelite of telephones over the top and
dispatched towards bullets, life for them, at Arras in ’17,
abruptly came to a halt. Patient bones that broken-white
in a ground fertile from yet more warfare waited for later.
Under fresh clover and flowering nettles their dead gaze
ever heavenward in eaten-away boxes.
Now the outer skin of the earth has been raked off,
they lie elbow to elbow imitating a Holbein
with on their feet – and still in good repair – their boots.
(Click to enlarge)