Wednesday, 2 November 2016

W-A-R, an Epilogue OR Living on the Shadow Line


November 11, Armistice Day, will see the commemoration of an armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at Compi├Ęgne, an agreement that ended the fighting on the Western Fron that went into effect at 11 a.m. Paris time on 11 November 1918. While it marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, it was not a formal surrender; although the armistice ended all actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude a peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles.

Today’s poem first appeared in Ydrasil (2009) and Poetry Monthly International (2010) [without an alternative title] before I included it in my collection. I wrote it soon after a former soldier I’d met in a bar had been telling me about a friend and former comrade who was in prison. The friend has been found guilty of attacking an ‘innocent’ party who had been goading him about looking better in uniform than in a suit. Apparently, he was on probation at the time. My companion commented, ‘It’s hard. You go to a war zone a whole person but each time you come back it’s like something more of that person is missing. Part of you dies out there or goes AWOL at the very least. I guess how much so is different for everyone…’

Many ex-service personnel (anyone, anywhere) need help to adjust to everyday life once they are home again either on leave or after being discharged. While it is important to help the injured and support the bereaved, there are also men and women who carry no visible signs of having been to war, but are just as much in need of our support and understanding as well as (in some cases) professional counselling. 

The man in the bar told me something else. ‘You have to be tough to fight, really tough. Show any weakness, and if the enemy doesn’t get you, your own side will. Back home, it can often feel like there’s a total stranger living in your skin and the chances are you don’t like that person at all. It's like the old self is all but dead. Sometimes the best part of that old self will make its way back, sometimes not. I dare say it’s the same for both sides in any war…’

This poem is a villanelle.

W-A-R, AN EPILOGUE or LIVING ON THE SHADOW LINE

I so look up to you with love and pride
for all the best qualities you nurture
where a light in you has all but died…

That first time you went to war, I cried
while you but longed for adventure;
I so look up to you with love and pride

In Iraq, your worst fears chose to hide
behind a ‘true grit’ human nature
where a light in you has all but died…

In Afghanistan, you fought side by side
with the bravest, a born again warrior;
I so look up to you with love and pride

You saw friends killed or injured, tried
to see hell as part of a bigger picture
where a light in you has all but died…

You seemed to take it all in your stride,
even carrying coffins on your shoulder;
I so look up to you with love and pride,
where a light in you has all but died…

Copyright R. N. Taber 2012; 2016

[Note: This poem appears under the title 'Missing, Believed Killed' in 1st eds. of Tracking the Torchbearer by R. N. Taber, Assembly Book, 2012; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

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