Canto 81: Dad’s Army

Sapper Bullen has been a reliable & hard-working soldier during his time with this unit. He can be given work to do without supervision. His whole bearing is good & if it were not for his decision to leave the army he could well have gained promotion.
Robert Sandy


Mi Dad

Politicians do not know youth!
They depend on the old
and the old depend on them
Gregory Corso

For King & Contree young men take up arms,
Or then again, only for the shilling,
The forces, ‘Testament & Book of Psalms,’
Guiding consciences thro’ coming killing;
Unfeeling fears,
For he was very brave,
To tangerine Tangiers travel’d mi father, Dave.

Under David Bowie mullet
In the market, sad & slow,
Looking deep into his wallet
Saw his fundage very low,
So he thought awhile, thought, ‘Fuck it!
To Britain I must go!’
& fending off for London, land & sea,
He sat near Euston with a cup of tea…

Beside him stood an officer
Recruiting in the street,
We can offer the  young soldier
Free travel with the fleet
Full fitness, high adrenalin, good friendship & fresh meat!”

London
August
1974


Making the Grade

When I dream of a future bigger than myself
I imagine that I am the earth,
Insistent. Unending.
Belita Andre

My father join’d the Royal Engineers
Training down in Tidworth thro the summer
How many happy nights were splash’d in beers
Down the rowdy tat room of ‘The Drummer;’
One final test
Would see him soldier born,
A beater of the breast, a blower of the horn.

They drove him down to Salisb’ry plain
With backpack ever heavy
Three hours to haul him home again
Across the open country
& so he caught a local train
Soon sipping milky tea
He watch’d his unit drift in two-by-two
Him paragon, them wet & weary crew.

His style the officer admired
& with a smile he said,
“That was inspired, Bullen, yer hired,”
& slow, like sinking lead
He placed the beret like a crown upon Pop’s
shaven head.

Wiltshire
October
1974


Imperial Soldier

I pass through trials all the way,
With sin and ills contending;
In patience I must bear each day
Hans Adolf Brorson

The very walls of Royal Priam’s town
Could not defy mi father in his prime,
Ennobl’d by a duty to the Crown,
He went to police the war-zones of his time;
Wild libido,
Good-looks unstoppable,
While mano e mano his ruck undroppable.

A lad so very far away,
From Pendle & its grazing,
Gazes on Kowloon’s god-sent bay,
A moment quite amazing,
With pockets full of six-week pay
Went he devil-raising,
& found a brothel, where an eager miss
Gave him the works, including syphilis!

On passing from hospital bed
He was quite promptly jail’d,
Wounds inflicted yourself,” they said,
“You have in service fail’d…”
Thus serving boot-tough sentences a better man was
bailed!

Hong Kong
December
1974


The Troubles

To the old ones I left round my own cabin door
My blessings I give ten thousand times oer
With a prayer & a tear for poor Erin
Tomas O Madagain

He rode the restless highways of the fish
To Liverpool, & on to Belfast docks,
Where rock’d the old order of the British
Since Bloody Sunday & its aftershocks;
Sat on the quay,
Forty-Two Commando –
Shaken, wounded, dreary in contact’s afterglow.

Pops travel’d south to Portadown
& on to bandit country,
Thro’ Crossmaglen & Beleek Town –
Where the latter’s pottery
Has won itself global renown –
Then on to Silvertree
“Take down that tricolor!” his sergent’s shout
“No sir!” dad sens’d a sniper roundabout.

“Are you refusing an order?”
“Yes, sir!” Mi Dad replied…
Whose officer, an hour later,
Drops firmly on his side,
“His common sense saved Bullen’s life, court
martial is denied.”

Northern Ireland
February
1975


Contact

The grain, the grass, the wood!
Is all the land now moist and rich
With red rebellious blood?
János Arany

Pops saw his first action over concrete;
A helicopter bringing sanga stone
As bullets rattle, clutching metal feet
The pilot panick’d & mi dad airborne;
A lifetime spent
In seconds flash’d him by,
As over trees he went, a turkey in the sky.

‘Well this is it,‘ he thought, & dropp’d
Twelve foot into the Liffy,
A mouth of Paddy gunk there copp’d,
His clothes all soak’d & whiffy,
Back to his base & life flipp’d & flopp’d,
Quaffing hot black coffee,
He was a sight, & yet he was alive –
Good luck, they say, should help a man survive.

Darkling on that night they started,
Those teams of dreadful dreams,
Broken hearted corpses carted
Off in goblin streams,
On either side the crackle-gun, the death-moans & the
screams!

Castle Dillon
April
1975


Casualties

Let the storm that raves about us,
By our faith be kept without us;
Let us from our troubles cease
Joseph Gostick

A tip off & a farmhouse factory
The co-op mix – almonds, fertilizer,
Diesel & sugar – the British Army
Are forced to act, growing ever wiser,
Three hours they threw
Bricks thro every window
No trigger traps there blew, the order came to go…

Mi dad’s best mate stepp’d oer the sill
Stood upon five hundred pounds
That in an instant him did kill
To his boy mi father bounds
Whose body bits lay strange & still
In pieces thro the grounds
& weeping terribly picked up a hand –
The coffin fill’d with naught but bags of sand.

Beyond blood, but bath’d in that blood,
The funeral becalms,
Mi father stood, a salty flood
Of tears did drench his arms,
Sad moment when the soldier’s life begins to lose its charms.

Huddersfield
July
1975


Peacekeeper

But, is it sweet to look around, and view
Thousands excluded from that happiness
Which they deserved, at least, as much as you
Anne Bronte

Dad noticed how the spotted hawks in flight
Pass’d on wide pinions thro’ the lofty air,
To where some steep, untrodden mountain height
Caught the last tresses of the Sun God’s hair;
A keen-eyed kite,
A fighter from Turf Moor
Lit by an eastern light on Stasinusian shore.

With roving mind the catalyst,
Poppa enter’d the UN,
Some post-apocalyptic fist,
Band of noble bable-men,
Whom on Men’s liberties insist –
Into the lion’s den
Of brawling Greeks & Turks to separate –
Hotbed of honour, howling, heat & hate!

These days he reads the Odyssey
& feels a Ulysees,
Exiled oersea, a memory
Of home across the seas,
Would keep him sane while sweltering in forty-six
degrees.

Cyprus
October
1975


Hometime

But the key to the city
Is in the sun that pins
the branches to the sky
David Bowie

Dad’s final Christmas sporting soldier’s boot
Spent back in Belfast, dreaming of Burnley,
Far from these towns him paid to troubleshoot,
Impatient miscreanted vileynie;
With Santa’s hat,
Beef-butty & mince pies,
Aloof, alone, he sat, sad on the steepl’d rise.

While Pops watch’d streets for terrorists,
They sat & scoff’d their stuffing,
Sang Cath’lic carols nice & piss’d
While father supp’d on nothing,
Thinking, ‘I should be an artist
On a marlb’ro puffing,
Instead of handling steely killer’s gun…’
Right there & then he knew his tours were
done.

Well, they offer’d him promotion,
But he’d made up his mind,
No more “BULLEN!” bloodshed sullen,
Outlook redefined,
He caught the boat to Liverpool & left the lads
behind.

The Irish Sea
May
1976


Mi Dad

I sought an arrow, gone I knew not where
Which from my bow had sped
But found among the grasses wild fringed pinks
Kotomichi

My mother, pop’s fond lover, willing dame,
Did of a happy family conceive,
& gave me flesh & bones, & then a name
That’s written in the hearts we never leave;
My own dear dad
Spoke to me like a man,
Vive ut vivas lad, & be the best ye can,”

Then placed me back inside the cot,
I dozed there, moomin-dreaming
Of Calliope & a plot,
With hopes for Earth’s redeeming,
But first I’d have to learn to dot
I’s that now are streaming,
With tears to feed me with my morning’s milk,
Upon my lips life lay as soft as silk.

As shut again these sleep-seal’d lids
He kiss’d my wrinkl’d brow,
My manly shield right there reveal’d
His tenderness, & how!
For still I can remember this all in the here & now.

Burnley
October
1976

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