Canto 48: Evacuation

So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other

Samuel Johnson


Dunkerque

The old dead Captains fought their ships,
& the great dead admirals led the line.
It was England’s night, it was England’s sea.
Robert Nathan

Panic grips the fabl’d British army,
Her soldiers splinter’d into shatter’d shards,
Her wounded bench’d to face the enemy,
Her bodies rotting, her ordnance scrap-yards;
But for one lot,
Led by Ervine Andrews,
Whose pure Parthian shot let loose tho’ they must lose.

In soft barnthatch did Tommy ‘ide,
Wi’ captain & five more men,
Beneath them fifteen Germans died
(& they’d do ‘em all again),
Two poor survivors fled outside
Raw-scalp’d by Billy’s bren;
“Let’s scarper boys!” young lads fleshly blooded
Wade thro’ Flanders fieldscapes freshly flooded.

By dune collars up piles the kit,
“Look lads,  just like Lytham!”
A messerschmit swoops down, to spit
Death’s teeth, O hangman’s drum,
Then inland hangs… they brush off sand, “Yer don’t get them on prom!”

Malo-les-Bains
May 30th
1940


Air Support

At Dunkirk I
Rolled in the shallows, and the living trod
Across me for a bridge
Sidney Keyes

As chaplain preaches calm on bended knee,
His prayers tumbling out from parching lips;
Men-laden craft creep slowly out to sea,
In hopeful silence bobb’d those lidded ships;
Firm officers
Check chaos with their guns,
“Form a queue you blighters, I’ll shoot each git that runs!”

Shark’s Head in swinking triumph rolls,
Its jubilant pilot gloats
At two rickety, wooden moles,
Those pathetic little boats,
Those cold, exhausted, starving souls,
Grasping for filth that floats;
“How long until Der Fuhrer will prevail?”
He spies a goofy bird upon his tail…

…The labours late-night of boffins
This new ‘Spitfire’ deploys,
Messerschmitt spins… wings dorsal fins…
Pack’d beaches burst in noise;
“‘’Bout bleedin’ time!” screams Tommy, “three cheers for the Brylcreem Boys!”

Malo-les-bains
May 31st
1940


Death of a Frenchman

Sacred friendship! heav’nly fire!
Unmix’d with gross impure desire;
In thee we’ll live, in thee we’ll die
Robert Fergusson

Only Lille deserves the honour of France,
Endures a losing battle to the end,
La Garde in front of La Belle Alliance
Would have been glad to frame these soldats ‘friend’;
Full fierce they fought
Like rigid rocks of Rome,
& ev’ry second bought some son sends safely home.

After many an adventure
Two poilus find safety’s grace,
Howling bagpipes call to muster
Bearded dregs of English race,
Out of copious wine cellar,
Fell some drunken disgrace;
Together they all stagger thro’ the night,
The last few boats for Dover to alight.

Boarding the pack’d Saint Helier
Henri slips, then falls &
Screams out, “Pierre!” soon oil-slick hair
& lone, ring-finger’d hand
Are gone, leaving no trace but shallow footsteps in the sand.

Dunkerque
June 2nd
1940


Echoes of Defeat

Alas! where there were woods,
I see flag-poles standing.
Men have swept nature’s nest away
Bewketu Seyoum

One last, dissarrang’d dragnet of soldiers,
Stretches to breaking points both boat & crew,
Alas, when rear guards reach empty beaches,
Crass shrieks of British perfidy ensue;
They’d fought to save
Those footsteps in the sand,
Them gone across the wave, gone to the promis’d land.

“…the odious apparatus
Of the Nazi privateers
We shall fight on fields & beaches,
Offer I: blood, sweat & tears,
If the empire of the English
Should last a thousand years,
Then let men say this was her finest hour!”
Churchill’s balsam plants Pendragon power.

The floating corpse of poor LeGrand
Wash’d up close by Calais,
Above, huge band of gen’rals stand,
Bedeck’d in sylvan grey,
Viewing those cliffs… pecking the waves, an eagle surfing spray.

France
June 4th
1940


Enter Italia

Be with us through the lingering night,
Protect us by thy holy might,
Let no vain dreams our sleep disturb
Magnus Felix Ennodius

Despite to time his trains not yet do run,
Il Duce defines Italy’s attack,
The ancyent doors of Janus toss’d open,
Jabbing a dagger in the Gallic back;
As Axis host
Swells two birds in one hand,
Spears pierce the Afric coast like cacti roughs up sand.

With Hitler nigh victorious,
Rises martial parasite,
Mussolini, ‘vainglorious,’
Best Alpini sends to fight,
Round snow-caps & ice crevices,
Far from Agrippa’s might,
Millennia diluted has the gene
That once won Europe for its own demesne!

Jean-Francois joined a local troop
Of common folk in arms,
Empiric group of youth & stoop,
Of farmers & gendarmes,
Shall guard the pass to Italy, some pancreas of Brahms.

Briancon
June 11th
1940


France’s Ignominy

He sat down in his chair
after watching
thirty thousand peasants die
Mercedes Durand

How they fought on the field of Alesia!
How they conquer’d crowns with Napoleon!
How they endured the seige of the Kaiser!
How they bled at the bloodbath of Verdun!
Thro’ Paris flares
Peaceful fait acomplit,
Ominouscent declares theirs was open city.

As ageing Petain chair’d the meet,
His cabinet divided,
Gentlemen! We must accede defeat,
To battle on misguided!”
“To Africa let us retreat,
Fight like corner’d tigers!”
“Oui! If we go we shall retain our pride,”
“Non! Prison camps will cloak the countryside!”

“What of our comrades, les Angliches?”
“They offer union;
To fight, they wish, right to finish…”
“Tis naught but corpse fusion,”
Says Petain, “Soon her neck shall be wringing like a chicken.”

Bordeaux
June 17th
1940


Seasider

‘Tis vain to say – her worst of grief is only
The common lot, which all the world have known;
For her ’tis more, because her heart is lonely
Hartley Coleridge

Sue Johnstone drifts to London Bridge Station,
Jumps on a train escaping to the sea,
Leaves London’s diamond civilisation,
Inspiraling hornet activity;
Infinite air
Of this midsummer’s day,
Wind ruffles thro’ wash’d hair, so good to get away.

East Croydon first, then Three Bridges,
Plouhshar’d scenery serene,
Rusted bangers building hedges,
Signposts nowhere to be seen,
At Brighton hops she on a bus,
Winding to Rottingdean,
To stretch tired limbs on pebbledashing sand,
“I’m sorry, lav, civilians are bann’d!

We’ll mine the beach this week,” he said,”
Sue stood up, brush’d down skirt,
Her pretty head was full of dread
Building to full alert,
Temper’d by thoughts her little ones were safe from hate & hurt.

Sussex
June 21st
1940


Peace in our Time

They chose silence
feigned blindness
pleaded ignorance
Cecil Rajendra

On the date Napoleon saw JUSTICE
Decree to the defeated her disgrace,
Petain begs Hitler for an armistice,
His rabbit trapp’d inside a paper chase;
Momentous ask,
As retribution piques,
That little corp’rals task accomplish’d in two weeks.

Midsommer graces stately trees
Girdling a verdant clearing,
From a polish’d black mercedes
Der Fuhrer leaps out jeering,
At this place, at his enemies,
Uncouth contempt searing –
He blows into the carriage where Berlin
Let Paris & her allied wretches win.

The ghosts of Gallic millions
Cried, ‘what did we die for,’
Civilians, Dominions,
A universal roar,
Extinguish’d by the wishes of Evil’s conquistador.

Forest de Compeigne
June 22nd
1940


Conqueror!

I am, with luck, the very future
Of this afflicted people who
Is shown the path and how to tread it
Grigore Vieru

Clear as crystal in his reminiscence,
The world-historical adventurer
Tours poppy fields; here was youth’s full vibrance
Expended as lowly despatch runner;
“How good & true
Our sacrifice now seems!”
He sighs, while driven thro’ the city of his dreams.

Embedded in his consciousness
Were the palaces & rues,
The operatic spaciousness
Ev’ry artist soul imbues,
Electrical vivaciousness,
As if prolific muse;
Swift papparazi following his lead
Yon Arc & Tower to the Invalides.
.
He gazed thro’ the sarcophagus
Into his hero’s core;
Soft silences, stood glorious
On Alexander’s shore…
“This city truly wond’rous, let us make fair Berlin more!”

Paris
June 23rd
1940

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