Canto 54: War Wounds

Schon schwebert ihr in ungemebnen Fernen
Den sel’gen Gottertraum
Und leuchtet neu, gesellig, unter Sternen
Im lichtbesaten Raum

Goethe


Imperial Japan

The Master smiled:
For the Seed that He had set
Broke presently thro’ the mould
Robert Buchanan

Sit amidst the shuku-kei of Basho,
Nibbling upon delectable sushi,
Observe a most engrossing game of Go,
Cherubim up-topping cups of Saki;
Chrysanthemums
Scenting Septembral air,
Gorgeous rainbow pom-poms in riot ev’rywhere.

In their casual Wafuku
War seems very far away,
Geisha passes round rich tofu,
“What of Britain?” she did say,
“Her empire sickly thro’ & thro’,
They won’t survive the fray…”
“True Kido-San,” said Basho, “but, for me,
America our one true enemy…

Such crude embargo set in place,
Forbidden to buy oil,
We feel disgrace, that haughty race
Has set my blood aboil!
Friends! we must win an empire their machinations to foil.”

Kanazawa
September
1941


Prisoner of War

Against the armour of the storm
I’ll hold my human barrier,
maintain my fragile irony
Hamish Henderson

Cradle of Slavic Christianity
Blown up Sergei Stiltski’s own brethren,
Trudging slowly thro’ this depress’d city,
Close to the road resounds an explosion;
Marching to war
Yon Kiev’s anxious hive,
Toward the front’s dull roar, one rifle between five.

A disaster without precedent,
The largest ever troop-trap,
As Hitler wounds an elephant
With a circle on a map,
With Stalin sat impenitent
As broke the thunderclap;
Six hundred thousand survive the battle,
Fenced off in roofless fields like dumb cattle.

“Food!” “Food!” Sergei springs to action
& sprints to this barb’d wire,
Heaving legion of starving men,
Moaning hunger’s desire,
Scrapping for scraps… he caught a bap, tho stale wolf-gorged entire.

Ukraine
September
1941


Drang Noch Osten

The east wind blows rain,
Vexing the rambler.
The road turns to mud
Lu You

Stalin’s laughter haunts Hitler’s garish dreams,
Ghosts whisper, “Delenda est Carthago!”
Come morning konferenz his sol-fa screams,
“I must begin the drive upon Moscow!”
“Perhaps we should
First form a winter’s line?”
“Nonsense! with one last shove the Kremlin shall be mine.”

Those mucky & encouching seas,
Thick, brown, froze ev’ry axle,
The Wehrmacht sinks up to it’s knees,
Jackboots suck’d from each ankle,
Their throttle roar more flagging breeze,
A foundering battle…
While Ollie rifles thro’ the Russian dead
Some sleep-coat stands & stabs him in his head.

Khan blew that black-tooth’d grin away
& dug his friend’s death-hole,
The grave fill’d in, loss felt like kin,
For friendship touches soul,
While from the ruthless Heavens Winter’s first snowflake did fall.

Dorogobuzh
October 7th
1941


Emperor

Dawn —
fish the cormorants haven’t caught
swimming in the shallows
Yosa Buson

Lilts Tojo, admiring, thro’ lush gardens,
Yon lotus buds with flowers commingling,
Thro’ palace halls tapestried with legends,
To the throne of a line everlasting:
Bows low he there;
Below his Emperor,
Sate on his dragons-chair, flank’d by vase & flower.

His excellency, Hideki,
Has gain’d Hirohito’s trust,
“How long must we let them treat thee
Like some coolie in the dust?
We must attack our enemy,
To strike first is a must,
To destroy our great Pacific rival,
Yamamoto wills your heart to battle!”

The starsoul thinks, then with a sigh,
Lets War loose with a nod,
A time to fly, a time to die,
In service to their ‘god,
Strains Japan’s soul, all set to burst from Wisteric seedpod.

Tokyo
Nov 3rd
1941


Fortress Malta

This is the dark time, my love,
All round the land brown beetles crawl about
The shining sun is hidden in the sky
Martin Carter

Mussolini blames his woes on Malta,
“Allow this hornet’s nest no hour of rest,
An unsinkable aircraft carrier,
From now keep her activity depress’d;
She is the knife
Press’d on lines of supply,
Her people full of life, then they will have to die.”

The Maltese met Il Duce’s rage,
Determin’d on liberty,
Imprison’d in an island-cage
They’ll dig themselves to safety,
A second neolithic age,
For faith’s first family;
Living life in a limestone catacomb,
Candles & prayers lighting up the gloom.

Fighting for their little country
They’d help a global cause,
‘Tween Italy & Tripoli
Attack’d the Axis stores,
With submarines & wellingtons, force all the wrack of wars.

Mediterranean
November
1941


Day in the Life

The brittle aromatic sage, which,
Trodden down, gives forth a fragrance that hangs
Upon the air, as broken bodies bleed
M Wilmoth

Dust devils swept the deadlock of Tobruk,
Dead heart of this most dreadful of dead lands,
The molten, hostile sky of the Menluk,
Medusa’s blood-serpents squirming thro’ sands;
As Dawn slow grows
Eager for the slaughter
Tommy Sumner arose… life short, but days shorter.

From out some mess tin Tom did shave,
Nobble-knee’d in khaki pants,
White knight of a Crusader wave,
Carthaginian elephants,
Whose citadels turn totall’d grave,
Flames licking from the vents…
& with a best mate shot on either side
A brown-eyed boy from Burnley nearly died.

As Billy writhed in agony,
On hot sand worm-guts spill’d,
How terribl’y veterancy
Such hellish sights did build,
‘If mi number int on it,’ Tommy thought, ‘I sha’nt get kill’d!’

Cyrenaica
November
1941


Slavic Sore

To learn from trees, from skyward-aiming poplars,
how humble, and yet upright, to remain.
To understand that what they keep imploring
Magda Isanos

On continental Europe all is plain,
All, all fallen in Hitler’s eager hands,
But for the neutrals – Sweden, Suisse & Spain –
& one bold bunch of rugged mountain bands;
When he can say
Veni, Vidi, Vici,
Must surely come today, into that wild contree

His legionnaires onslaughting crash’d,
But again Tito stands firm
Neath Stuka, Krupp & motar blast,
Of a wrathful donnersturm,
As shades of night were falling fast,
A partisanic squirm
Out of his grasp, up to the mountainsides
Into safe regions, led by local guides.

These fearless, spirited, unique,
Indomitable men
Play hide & seek, while week by week
The Wehrmacht try again –
Sensing their liberation, now, is not an ‘if?’ but ‘when!’

Montenegro
November
1941


Glimpse of Glory

they are making you fight a treacherous war,
you were not born in snow
you do not know snow, come back
Akhil Katyal

Fascisti race to the gates of Moscow,
Ran ragged in her ruin’d environs,
Ice-caked at thirty-five below zero,
& the Russkis still scrapping like demons;
Skirting the verge
Of that fabled city,
One last glorious surge must seize them victory!

Kampfswagon engine warm’d by fires,
Khan’s company advances,
On reconnaissance’s acquires
Most mythical of glances,
In nearing distance Moscow’s spires
Flutter like goldfinches,
Rough volley of gunshot disturbs the dream
For motley crews of workers on them stream!

With the Panzers frozen solid
A few leagues to the rear,
Entrench’d Russian, with wrench & gun,
In action ever near,
With pisgah sight those spires espied… mist shrouds… then disappear.

Khimki
December 3rd
1941


Pendulum Turns

My country is my pride & glory!
The great Soviet people in a headlong rush
Of fiery lava will wipe out the fascist gang.
Nikolai Tikhonov

For those friends having fail’d to run the course
Willie’s harp sang a sad & lilting dirge,
Breakfasting on the flesh of frozen horse,
Sweat froze to Khan at his madnesses verge;
Reduced to rags,
Barely untermenschen,
O torn & tatter’d flags, O worn & shatter’d men!

Over Moscow’s frozen river
Came Zhukov’s counter-attack,
Fresh soldiers of Siberia,
From many a hunter’s shack,
Spirits fortified by vodka,
Snowsuits upon the back,
Supported closely by planes & cannons,
Shall pulverise those exhausted Germans.

Thus perishes the same retreat
Which slew the Grand Army,
Raped with defeat, scraping ice-sheet
Men trudge dejectedly,
Homes burning, & potatoes, to express tough enmity.

Russia
December 6th
1941

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