by Hans Wälder
Not-too-accurate WWI poem-like story.
Bullets whistled over our heads
providing a fantastical background to
our smoke break.
Jacobs and I discussed an issue of the Times
that came to us three months late
without the Finance section.
Reginald, in between bouts on the Lewis gun
shouted out that he didn’t much care
for the sad state of cricket in Leeds.
A barrage of mortars went off behind us
accompanied by a crackling of rifle fire
and the lieutenant tapped me on the shoulder
to ask us to be a bit quieter-
he was trying to sleep, after all.
Then, a monstrous bang rang out
and the earth opened beneath our feet
and swallowed the battle.
Blackness, all around.
A few men screamed, gibbering madly that they did not deserve this fate.
The fall went on.
Seconds ticked by.
The silence unbearable, Jacobs and I,
greatcoats flapping around us,
resumed our discussion of the newspaper.
A former classmate of mine at Oxford
fell past, chasing his hat;
I gave a respectful nod.
Two majors, close-cropped mustaches unruffled by the wind
shared a floating cup of tea
and discussed the use of poison gas
and how many of the enemy it would kill.
A Mark IV tank whistled by
broken tracks trailing uselessly behind,
its doomed crew howling in exultation
hoping to find more Germans at the bottom.
I tipped my hat to a falling artillery crew
desperately and pointlessly trying to load
and fire at an enemy gun
falling on the other side.
A German soldier, pointed helmet stained with mud
fell into our group, and in halting English
related an article from the Berlin papers
And all at once, we hit the bottom.
I rose, rifle in hand
expecting nothing, further blackness
or perhaps fire, endlessly burning
crisping and searing our flesh from our bones
only to discover the trench once again
resplendent in its perfect disorder.
Reginald resumed with the Lewis
The mortars struck up their firing
And Jacobs and I took our places on the line
firing indiscriminately across the field.
We were now in Hell, of course,
but hadn’t moved an inch.