November artillery arcs
unseen into Salisbury Plain as if
someone is furiously slamming a door,
again, and again the shell smoke squatting,
gobbed above the crushed grassland
then feathering into air.
In the village, December narrows to the corridor of days
a dark ending in 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 cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, and young men.
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 go 4×4
a convoy of white lights shuffling down Wilsford Hill,
drivers peering through mud for short cuts they do not deserve.
By the old grain dryer the convoy halts. The 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 snipe parade.
They circle one more time,
they are making sure of their water.
This is their time, their ambition.