Hunched down in the hole, bodies half recognizable, strewn around,the thud-thud-thud of guns, like a factory, hammering out death, the drips, drops falling from noses, was it mud, or blood, or sweat, or all combined? Hot metal danced around ,whizzing overhead, mini coffins glowing in the dark, crazed glow worms ready to eat through you.
Those are the dead around, soon joining them or surviving are the options.The mud, caked, spread, dry, wet, dry, drummed in, on parade, left-right-left, a shroud, hanging on to the bodies, a uniform for all soldiers, keeping in the cold.Empty eyes, twisted forms, clawed hands and death all look at the soldier, the bullets stop. That means shells.
Ripples in the puddles, showing earthquakes all around the rain of shells. Face against the mud side of the hole, hoping to survive, hoping to die quickly.
Counting the things needed to survive, the invisible checklist: gun, bullets, bandage, gas mask, backpack, knife, bayonet, plus those things with no business in war, pocket watch, wallet and photos, letters and lighter. No shower at half time now, crawling up the rim, a crazy tree sloth, sliming slowly out of the mud. Up, Up to the sky, jab of knife, kick of foot, climbing the wall, away from death or towards, who cares now, away from, stink, mud.
Near the top.The edge of the hole. Raining now, hiding any movement, sheeting soaking. Bodies wet, bent, hurt, dead.Peeping over the edge, hands over, heaving, kneeling,rolling, crawling. Which side is home?
Picking a way, decisions. Crawling, crawling, though wire, mud, soil, bodies, broken wood, trees, branches, cartwheels, here a horse’s corpse, bubbling in the soup, climbing the horizontal up, up, again up.
A voice, calling: Something, but what?
Listening. Which language is that? The thud of guns drown out the voices. In the heart, the soldier cares not, and crawls, dancing to safety or death.
Into the shadows.The trench is near. Head down,he sings the national anthem. If its good, the soldier gets in, if not, the soldier gets shot.The soldier may get shot even if its the good side, suspected of cowardice, or mistaken for the enemy.
Slipping down the sides of the trench, stand, salute.
Soldiers, helmets hanging over their brows, half asleep, half dead, sleeping, backs to the wall, standing asleep, fatigued, confused, more than scared. A drink. Wine splashed into faces.Or blood.
Staggering through the filth, gun in hand, sentry style; back to the fray now, the hammering of guns.
Tomorrow the sun will come, or death, or life. Killing other humans. For what?
The folly of Kings, or empires,of Gods, of Ghosts.
The rain makes the trench into a canal, edging along,seeping.The war will continue. No one will win.
Names on monuments in autumnal parades, poppies and wreaths, flames lit, salutes and songs. Long lists of the living-turned-into-the-dead. The stubbornness of futility.