This November 11th, two poems by ex-soldier Danny Martin of Liverpool, who served two tours of duty in Iraq.
was first made
a temporary tree
for the “Glorious Dead”.
Wood can’t hold the will
of the wolf.
So us little pigs
build in stone now, it lasts
longer. It can be added to
that monument to “the war to end all wars”
is a blank canvas.
It wants to be filled.
It craves names.
for the chisel tip.
Danny Martin ~ 2008
(Note about Portland Stone: Portland stone is the preferred material for many war memorials, including the Cenotaph in London and the new National Arboretum in Staffordshire. During a recent visit to the Arboretum I was struck at the sheer size of its main war memorial, and the vast blank slabs waiting to be filled. – DM)
Do away with medals
Poppies and remembrance parades
Those boys were brave, we know
But look where it got them
Reduced to line after perfect line
Of white stones
Immobile, but glorious, exciting
To kids who haven’t yet learned
That bullets don’t make little red holes
They rip and smash and gouge
And drag the world’s dirt behind them
Remember lads, you won’t get laid
No matter how good your war stories
If you’re dead
So melt down the medals
Fuel the fire with paper poppies, war books and Arnie films
Stop playing the pipes, stop banging the drums
And stop writing fucking poems about it.
Danny Martin ~ 2008
The sentiments expressed here remind me of the thoughts and words of my own father, a World War II veteran, born 1923, died 2006. A teenage farm boy conscripted as a soldier in the German Army, he and many other young men on all sides of the conflict did what they were told was their duty. And every survivor bore scars, even those who came through physically unmarked.
Dad had been wounded physically and emotionally, and though he recovered to a great degree, he personally took exception to the term “The Glorious Dead”, which is engraved – as it is on so many others across our country – on the Cenotaph in Quesnel. Every time we passed it, he would soberly say, “There is nothing glorious about war. Nothing. Anyone who tries to dress it up with words is a fool. It’s just a bunch of boys trying to kill each other, by orders of men standing out of the way of the bullets. All this fuss with the poppies and speeches is covering up the truth of what goes on in war. We are so stupid that we never learn to do things differently, just find new ways to kill each other, then cry and write poems about it.”
I never had any answer to that speech.
What can we say, those of us who haven’t walked that road?
For more: War Poetry by Danny Martin.