Canto 58: Elevations

When they were slayn, so thursted him that he
Was wel ny lorn, for which he gan to preye
That god wolde on his peyne han som pitee,
And send him drinke, or elles moste he dye

Chaucer


Camp Eingost

And now I know what ails the world: Power
Humility dies on its very own emaciated neck
Even cockroaches rise
Rira Abbasi

Life weary, yet life loves to linger on,
At least in Warsaw some know family,
Unbless’d morning, SS form a cordon.
Shunting away the old ones forcibly;
“You will be sent
To safe & special camp,”
Laughing inside they meant extinguishing life’s lamp.

The Starbearers pack tight without
Water nor ventilation,
Days trundle by ’til rough shout “Out!”
A primitive train station,
Old Hersz is fill’d with gnawing doubt
At the explanation
That for these showers they must strip to skin,
He kiss’d his Kaiser’s cross & crept within.

The Harikvah soon screaming roar,
As hissing swirl’d the gas,
Squirm, writhe & claw… alive no more
They search’d each mouth & ass,
& form’d possession-mountains, ditching deep the warm corpses.

Treblinka
July 22nd
1942


Desert Surge

With grey arm twisted over a green face
The dust of passing trucks swirls over him,
Lying by the roadside in his proper place
Gavin Ewart

On a day suffocating & stormy,
Resplendent bloom’d the Rose of Jericho,
Til’ crush’d beneath grinding machinery
Of Afrikans advancing row by row;
Led by Rommel,
Darling of the masses,
To conquer the Kanal & claim the Caucasus.

With flair & flourish he attack’d
Across hard & calcin’d earth,
Battle’s hot, corrosive impact
His to steer by right of birth,
Tobruk’s quicksand captured intact,
Much bloodspill mark it’s worth,
A port from which a warring conqueror
Could drive the British out of Africa.

To Alamein the Eighth withdraw,
Digging-in defences,
Midst Cairo’s War th’embassadour
Urns his secret papers…
The fleet, from Alexandria, flees for safer harbours.

Egypt
August 7th
1942


Malta Starved

‘See you tomorrow, then.’ Tomorrow,
it is certain, never comes.
Evasions & delays recur
Macedonius the Consul

There was no spring in Malta, forty-two,
For what grows on an active volcano?
When freshest water was the dusty dew
Blown in by senses-seizing Sirrocco;
No food to spare,
When pets gaurded by guns,
When just the prickly pear replaced those sunken tonnes,

When sirens sound incessantly
When rampant typhus fever,
When fighters came from Italy
& no-one dared relieve her,
At this frontier of liberty,
Even the believer
Grew weary at the hunger & the stench,
Til mass restored her heart with stoic wrench.

How long can an island nation
Bide her tongue & suffer?
As starvation & salvation
Oer grim futures hover –
When lacking arks of flour & oil soon they must surrender!

Malta
August
1942


Game of Death

Learn by our friendship to create
An immaterial fire,
Whose brightnesse Angels may admire
Thomas Stanley

“Come mother, the match is kicking off soon!”
Shouts Konstantin, blood-rushing FC Start,
Whistling a happy Ukranian tune,
Sweet strains of which were nestled deep in heart;
Heroes emerge
Behind great Trusevich,
Onto the grassy verge, then spread around the pitch!

Eleven versus eleven,
Hitler white & Stalin red,
As the Russian Number Seven
Scores a bullet with his head,
Konstantin was shot to heaven,
A year of fears far fled…
Free kick fies from the foot of Kuzmenko!
& now, at last, the ball finds Klimenko,

Who dribbles around the goalie,
But choosing not to score
He hoofs it screaming skillfully
Back to the midfield four –
Hysterical with pride the Stiltskis ride the thunder-roar.

Kiev
August 9th
1942


Operation Pedestal

& only the drowned hears
stay calm –
& obeys, not the drowning
Henneh Kyereh Kwaku

A convoy pass’d the safety of the straits,
Sailors survey’d the scene as once did Scott,
But his soiree was not left to the fates,
That tranquil sea tempest of shell & shot;
No man dared bunk
The plan steam’d on & on,
As ship-by-ship was sunk twixt Skerki & Cape Bon.

The war roll’d on right furious
An entire harvest afloat
Now set on by swarms of stukas
& Davidian E-Boat
Driving against the destroyers
& carrier support
In one long running battle thro the Med
Where murderers were murdered there instead.

They flew out from Valetta’s fields
Into the boiling sky,
Mere Spitfire shields, to save the yields
They could but only try
As on into the jaws of death those brave men fly & fly.

The Mediterranean Sea
August 13th
1942


Stalin’s City

My dish, my tumbler,
here in the tin-plate
I’ve scratched my name.
Günter Eich

The Sixth Army thunders to the Volga,
The Swastika hoisted over Elbrus,
In front – unending acres of Asia,
Behind – the widest wake of conquerors;
Resting their flank
Upon the deep, dark Don,
Onwards advanced each tank, onwards & ever on!

With sleeves roll’d up, sporting short pants,
On mountain slope stood Willie,
Watching apartments, parks & plants
Of this white cubist city,
The first hint of caution supplants
Invincibility!
For infesting the city & the plain,
The Red Army seems set to fight again.

Above shored-up defences pour
Fourth Richtofen Air Fleet,
Planes by the score have brought the War
To level ev’ry street,
The will Man gains to resist ills soul-temper’d in the heat.

Stalingrad
August 23rd
1942


Montgomery

The Ark waits,
Lord,
the Ark waits on Your will
Carmen Bernos De Gasztold

The world is at arms, the world is ablaze,
Nigh ev’ry man now forced to choose a side,
What days are these? These are darkest of days,
Stripping a man of dignity & pride;
The battle lines
To breaking point pull’d taut,
Der Fuhrer’s grand designs to be or be distraught.

Churchill threw the pink-skinn’d Monty
On imperial mission,
Stood before the beige Eighth army,
“We must win by attrition,
Defend the Nile from the blue sea
Down to the Depression…”
His troops entering oaseas of calm
In whose auspices they must face no harm.

All round the village rose the purr
Of Shermans beautiful
With knowing burr, the spirits stir,
“Sole way to slay Rommel…
Dig ‘em in along Alem el Halfa at the double!”

El Alamein
August 25th
1942


El Alamein

Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.
What is there to be or do?
What’s become of me or you?
William Empson

Stiff-borne by dreams from his fade-worn Fuhrer,
Fraught by an all-expectant Germany,
Ill on the air of the wide, wide Delta,
The Pyramids in immediacy;
Rommel orders
His neurasthenic men,
“Boys, rev up the panzers, advance them once again.”

Droving North of the Quattara
These iron-clad caravans
Rode the ridge Alem el Halfa
To the Somuan Shermans
Hanging tough – from sandy shelter
Shells titubated plans;
He paus’d, the pale moon growing paler still,
Up from the south warm sandstorms shriek & shrill.

Dust settles on a dead terrain,
Enmein’d with armour’d hulk,
Glancing in pain, long lists of slain,
“A tanker has been sunk…”
He took the news heart-sighing, “Call it off!” & left to sulk.

Jabel Kalakh
September 3rd
1942


Black Gold

Whither, unfortunate wretch, have I strayed,
Thus of thy bounty to lie disinherited –
I alone whilst every other is paid?
Publius Papinius Statius

A flight of spitfire falls from sommer sky,
Lands as precisely as migrating drake
On isles astride the highway of supply,
All alone in this hostile Axis lake;
Thro’ constant fire,
Urged on by deep belief
That crown’d heads of empire must send to them relief.

Harbours of expectant children
By sad & weary farmers,
Drop-swap nervous conversation
Cheering for the Port Chalmers,
The Stars of Melbourne & Brisbane,
Clad in shatter’d armours –
Survivors of this keystone of the war,
Then the Rochester Castle made them four!

The convoy limp’d, or tow’d to port,
Join’d by vital tanker,
Tho’ ten ships short brave sailors brought
Salvation to anchor,
Soon submarines refuel’d scented Axis ship & sank her!

The Mediterranean Sea
September 15th
1942

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