Leaving the compound

1913 

All November artillery arcs unseen into Salisbury Plain,

Noise like someone furiously slamming the door,

again and again. Shell smoke squatting,

gobbed above the crushed grassland,

then feathering into air.

In the village, December narrows to the corridor of days

leading a dark ending into moods of glitter and promise.

Wet boots, paired in the hall; by coal fires

we slumber, stir to feast,

and fall again asleep.

Guarding apples trees to piss out the

Twilight booze, our  faces turn to January,

to what we know now, towards what we hope might be.

At first light we are marching out the door to work,

the village grows wheat, barley, livestock and young men.

2013

One dazzling century has gone away and these

December days narrow again to corridor in another.

The foxed Plain lies still, its vedettes locked up,

the MoD trainers home for Christmas, their last batch

already patrolling the real thing: hot-palmed, Afghanistan’d,

counting down the armoured days until their tour is through.

This scheduled throw of men and women captured in press photos

of turkey dinners in the mess, jolly paper hats,

the PM, ham-faced beside his chosen celebrity,

showers the uniforms with praises

and waves goodbye.

Exiting the dark Plain, off-roaders

in a convoy of white lights shuffling down Wilsford Hill,

men peering through mud for short cuts they do not deserve.

By the old grain dryer the convoy haltsThe lights wait

and then disperse, some going east some going west.

Unheeded beyond the set aside and the dead bean fields

lies the village, her curtains pulled tight against rain, 

our wet boots paired in the hall.

By fires we slumber, stir to feast, and fall again asleep.

We are easier than before, more experienced,

life is less certain now. This is a good thing. 

Overnight the river has won the battle

for the grazing by Cuttenham Farm,

lifting the normal restrictions on the duck

whose narrow landings have risen wide enough to hold the sky.

Off they go, a fellowship noisily airborne above the bridge,

its brick buttresses clean-sided by the flood.

Oil-feathered, water-dark, they are silhouettes

embarking once more to defeat what they cannot understand.

We wait while dusk evacuates its final light onto the landing grounds.

We wait, knowing acts of heroism take time

but losing patience are walking home,

our backs turned on what is suddenly overhead,

coming in like the clappers over the black stab

of the tree tops, the silver snipe parade.

They circle one more time,

they are making sure of their water.

this is their time, their ambition.

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